SANTA CLARA — When quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo walked to the line of scrimmage with 9:40 left in the 49ers’ 44-33 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans began to chant.
Garoppolo won’t win that award this season — he has started only four games — but he’s playing as well as any quarterback in the league right now.
On Sunday, he faced a team that ranked first in the NFL in sacks on opposing quarterbacks, first in fewest passing yards allowed and first in fewest points allowed.
Garoppolo shredded them.
He completed 21 of 30 pass attempts, threw for 242 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran for a touchdown, too, and got sacked just once. His quarterback rating was 102.4.
“That was the biggest challenge for him and the biggest challenge for our offense,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said afterward. “We had to run more of our offense. We had to mix in some keepers and bootlegs just so we could slow them down, whether they were effective or not. Their linebackers are so fast, you’ve got to keep them off balance. I thought (Garoppolo) did a lot more stuff today that I don’t think he has done a ton of his whole career.”
Coming into the game, the Jaguars were giving up an average passer rating of 65.2 — lowest in the NFL. They hadn’t allowed a quarterback to post a passer rating higher than 87 all season. And they were giving up only 11.4 points per game on the road.
They completely fell apart.
“I don’t think they were used to a team moving the ball the way we did,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They were very chippy out there, yelling at each other, yelling at us. We did a great job of not retaliating and just letting them talk, letting them beat themselves up.”
The 49ers scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Garoppolo led a 79-yard drive and scored a touchdown on a 1-yard sneak. This was the first time the 49ers scored a touchdown on their opening drive all season.
After a three-and-out by the Jaguars offense, the 49ers got the ball back and Garoppolo led a 54-yard field goal drive.
Shortly after the 49ers made the field goal, Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin appeared to spit at Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson on the sideline. Jackson shoved Colvin, and coaches separated them.
“I’ve always been OK with the sideline stuff,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “It’s a very emotional game. Controlling our emotions when we’re on the field, that’s what we have to do a better job of.”
The Jaguars continued to unravel early in the second quarter. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw an interception to cornerback Dontae Johnson, who returned the ball 50 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers led 16-0. But the Jaguars blocked the extra point and returned it 58 yards for a safety.
The game turned on this play. It seemed the 49ers might collapse.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 5:15 left in the second quarter. During the next series, Jaguars safety Barry Church intercepted Garoppolo in the end zone. And with 14 seconds left in the second quarter, Bortles threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
At halftime, the 49ers and Jaguars were tied at 16.
The Jaguars got the ball to start the third quarter and kicked a field goal. They led 19-16. After a three-and-out by the 49ers offense, it seemed the Jaguars might blow the game open.
But on third-and-7 from the Jaguars’ 35, 49ers nickel back K’Waun Williams reached up with his left hand and intercepted Bortles.
The 49ers scored the next 21 points.
With 6:51 left in the third quarter, Garoppolo threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle. Then with 10:42 left in the fourth, Garoppolo threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Trent Taylor while rolling left and throwing across his body.
“I showed him how to do that in practice,” Shanahan said with a laugh.
“Unbelievable catch,” Garoppolo said. “O-line gave me time. I think they rushed three guys on that one, so they gave me time,” Garoppola said. “They covered up everything initially and I scrambled around. That’s just part of being on the same page with guys. It takes a little while to get that chemistry, but I think we’re slowly moving toward that.”
At this point, the 49ers led 30-19. On the first play of the Jaguars’ next drive, 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted Bortles at the Jaguars’ 41 and returned the ball to the 18. That was Bortles’ third interception of the game.
Two plays later, on second-and-three from the 11, the MVP chants started.
The 49ers and Jaguars went on two score two more touchdowns each during garbage time, but the game essentially ended when the chants began.
The 49ers are 5-10. They have won four games in a row and five of six. They’re not going to the playoffs, but they just beat a team that will. Are the 49ers as good as a playoff team?
“Hard to say,” Shanahan said. “We played one today. I know it seemed like we were the better team. I think we’ve gotten better each week, from Chicago to Houston to Tennessee to this. I want us to finish up strong next week (against the Rams). I’m really counting on that to lead us into next year.”
FOSTER INJURED AGAIN
Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster suffered a stinger for the second game in a row. He returned to action shortly after sustaining the injury, but did not finish the game. “He could have gone (back in),” Shanahan said. “He was battling through it. We want to make sure he’s ready for next week.”