How Jimmy Garoppolo's finding his groove at right time for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Six minutes into the second quarter Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers had a 10-point lead against the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was convinced it should have been more.

After jumping to a quick lead sparked by their defense, the Niners went three-and-out twice, with a net gain of minus-18 yards on six plays. Even with the double-digit lead, Garoppolo wasn't happy.

As Garoppolo stormed to the sideline, he approached the rest of the offensive players and laid into them, warning they were missing a golden opportunity to bury the Packers early. A fired-up Garoppolo pointed out that with Aaron Rodgers on the other side, every possession mattered.

"That was really awesome," tight end George Kittle said. "Everything after that just kind of took off because of what Jimmy said ... He's the best leader I've ever been around but when he does that, it definitely gets everyone fired up. His voice carries a lot of weight and having him do that definitely gets us going."

Whatever Garoppolo said resonated, as the Niners scored 13 points to close out the half and put up points on five of their next six possessions. By the time it was all said and done, Garoppolo & Co. had buried the Packers 37-8, sending a message that the gap between the two NFC contenders is more like a gulf.

"We got the touchdown right away and then I don't know, we were kind of in a lull a little it seemed like," Garoppolo said. "I just thought everyone needed a little get-the-juice-going type of thing, so just kind of brought everyone up and I think it did us well."

While Garoppolo's passionate plea undoubtedly served a purpose, his contributions went beyond intangibles. After a rough start due in part to protection struggles, Garoppolo settled in and had one of his best, most efficient performances.

Garoppolo was 14-of-20 for 253 yards with two touchdowns for a passer rating of 145.8. The passer rating and yards per attempt (12.7) were career highs for Garoppolo in a game he started. Perhaps more important, Garoppolo didn't turn the ball over.

"Jimmy was great," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "The opportunities that he had in the pass game from what I can think back to seemed pretty flawless. I think he protected the ball, weren't close to any picks, I thought he was protecting the ball when they did get their pass rush. And made some big plays when he had to."

For much of the season, doubts about the 49ers' legitimacy have been directly linked to Garoppolo. In the first half of the season, he was rarely asked to carry the offensive freight, as the run game and defense did most of the heavy lifting.

After Sunday's game, cornerback Richard Sherman offered a one-minute, 36 second response encompassing 353 words in support of his quarterback.

"Jimmy Garoppolo is our leader, and we will follow him into the darkest of dark," Sherman said. "We'll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you, you won't touch him. He goes to battle and to fight for us every day, and we have an obligation to go to battle and to fight for him. And you hear some of the noise and the things said about him -- and it's frustrating.

"Because we see him every day; we see what kind of work ethic he puts in, the hours that he puts in preparing. ... You can appreciate being good enough that people gotta make excuses for why you're good. He's a good enough quarterback that people have to make excuses; they have to move the bar."

The past month has offered more opportunities for Garoppolo to play a larger role and, for the most part, he has been up to the task. In the past four games, Garoppolo is third in the NFL in passing yards (1,242), fourth in yards per attempt (8.39) and passer rating (109.7), and first in touchdown passes (11).

It's easy to forget Garoppolo, who is in his sixth NFL season, has made only 21 starts. He's also a little more than a year removed from a torn ACL. In other words, he's far from a finished product and seems to be finding his stride as the Niners enter a rugged stretch.

“Just the understanding of the offense, obviously having great players around me makes my job a lot easier," Garoppolo said. "As far as just being comfortable with the offense and getting the game plan down throughout the week, it's become easier and easier. Just got to keep trending in the right direction now."