49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo motivated by questions about his lesser workload

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After attempting the fourth-fewest passes ever in an NFL postseason game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has heard the chatter.

As the Niners begin preparation for Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs, Garoppolo acknowledged Thursday that he knows how he might be viewed in the grand scheme of the offense after his eight pass attempts in the NFC Championship Game.

Not that he's worried about it. In fact, Garoppolo is taking a page from cornerback Richard Sherman and using it as motivation.

"Everyone has different ways to get motivated, and very similar to Sherm, I do the same thing," Garoppolo said. "I hear all the stuff and everything, but you can't put that all out there all the time. You have to do with it what you will and take it for what it is. Just at the end of the day, you've got to go out there and play football."

To this point in the postseason, the 49ers have followed a similar tactic of the Bob Griese-led Miami Dolphins of the 1970s, leaning heavily on their rushing attack and defense to carry most of the freight.

That approach has clearly worked as the Niners have averaged 235.5 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and 5.29 yards per carry in winning their two postseason games by an average of 17 points per game.

In those two games, Garoppolo has attempted just 27 combined passes for 208 yards. For context, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes has thrown more than 20 passes in the first half of both playoff wins for the Chiefs.

But as Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and many of Garoppolo's teammates are quick to point out, the decision to go so heavy on the run has a lot to do with their success doing it and very little to do with whether they believe in Garoppolo, though that's sure to be a point of discussion in the media circus of Super Bowl week.

"That's wild that he takes criticism for that," left tackle Joe Staley said. "We won the game. We were doing what we needed to do to win the game, and that's the main point of an NFL football game. I think he would be pretty sad if he threw 450 and we lost, so it doesn't really matter."

Garoppolo, after returning from a torn ACL in his left knee, appeared to progress as the season went on. He threw for 3,978 yards -- fourth most in Niners history -- and completed 69.1% of his passes, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL. His three games with at least 300 passing yards, four touchdowns and a completion rate of 70% or better were most in the NFL. He was also the only quarterback to finish in the top five in the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns.

All of that has the Niners believing Garoppolo can do more -- far more -- if the situation calls for it against the Chiefs.

"We've had plenty of games this season where we've really had to lean on him heavily to win the games for us, and he's come through every single time," Staley said. "I think that's a storyline because we didn't throw the ball obviously the last game, but we didn't need to. I think that's also a strength of Kyle, is that he's going to do whatever it takes to win the game. And whatever he feels is working the best, is what we're going to do.

"That doesn't fall on Jim's shoulders at all. It's a complete team effort. And I think that's another example of this team being very selfless in what we're doing, is that you have the quarterback could care less if he throws 500 yards or if he throws for 10. He just wants to win the game, and the whole entire team is like that."

While it remains to be seen whether Garoppolo will be asked to take on more against Kansas City, he does believe that his experience as the backup to Tom Brady with the New England Patriots will help him in the run-up to the game.

Garoppolo won two Super Bowl rings as Brady's backup, but he didn't play in either game. However, he believes there was value in learning how to handle the crush of media and potential distractions.

"Just having been through that, and obviously being a starter, it's a little different with time management and everything," Garoppolo said. "But just having seen all that, being up close and personal with it, I think all that will help me."

Garoppolo said Thursday he also took valuable lessons from watching Brady go about his business during Super Bowl week, noting how calm Brady was and how he found a way to treat it like any other game.

Now that he's a starter in the Super Bowl for the first time, Garoppolo said he might reach out to Brady.

"It's not a bad idea," Garoppolo said. "The more information that you could get about it and having been through it, it's a little different as a starter than a backup, so any information I could get would be great."

One quarterback he will almost certainly speak to at some point is Mahomes.

In taking on the Chiefs, Garoppolo's past two seasons will come full circle. It was a Week 3 loss to Kansas City in 2018 in which he suffered the season-ending knee injury, and a sharp preseason performance against the Chiefs helped him on the road back from the injury.

Garoppolo said he and Mahomes don't necessarily keep in touch, but he will always remember Mahomes taking a moment in the bowels of Arrowhead Stadium to console him after the injury.

"I didn't even know Pat at the time," Garoppolo said. "For him to come out of his way after the game and wish me luck and everything, just a real class act."

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