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Eight passes, 0 TDs. Could Jimmy Garoppolo's Super Bowl path have been any easier?

Melissa Jacobs at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara
Photograph: Sean M Haffey/Getty Images

When the 49ers kneeled for the final time on Sunday, officially launching themselves to a Super Bowl berth after a 37-20 annihilation of Green Bay, Levi’s Stadium shook with joy. Kyle Shanahan threw down his headset and hugged every warm body in sight, the players’ families swarmed the field, and red and gold confetti rained down until there was barely a blade of visible grass left on the field. Running back Raheem Mostert celebrated his 220 yards and four touchdowns, and also the fact that he has found such an idyllic home after being cut by six other teams. The defensive backs pranced knowing they had mostly neutralized Aaron Rodgers. Then there was Jimmy Garoppolo, whose smile was as big as anyone’s despite the fact that he could have read a Dostoevsky novel for much of this game and the result would have been unchanged. Garoppolo produced virtually nothing in the NFC Championship because he didn’t have to.

“We were running the hell out of the ball tonight. It made my life very easy. It was a fun night,” said Garoppolo with his signature grin.

Jimmy Garoppolo stats

Very easy is putting it mildly. Garoppolo threw for 77 yards on just eight pass attempts, giving him the strange honor of being the first quarterback to win a playoff contest with under 10 pass attempts since Mark Brunell in the Jaguars’ 1999 divisional game.

Despite appearances, nothing about San Francisco’s passing game was broken. In fact, the aerial attack looked as if it would occupy much of the evening after Tevin Coleman was stuffed on a third and one on the opening drive and Garoppolo hit Samuel on passes of 16 and 30 yards on San Francisco’s next possession. Then Mostert broke out a 36-yard touchdown run and the 49ers saw nothing but open rushing gaps from that point forward. The dominating running attack coupled with a smothering defense was a dream for the Niners head coach, Shanahan.

Related: Raheem Mostert runs Packers ragged as 49ers reach Super Bowl

For San Francisco, Sunday was a masterclass in controlling the line and tempo.

The 49ers’ defense sacked Rodgers four times, picked him off twice and forced a fumble. It was again evident how crucial the bye week was for San Francisco to trot out a healthy defense loaded with depth.

The NFC Championship was also the second straight game in which the rushing attack was so impactful that any passing production from Garoppolo was gravy. Against Minnesota, he attempted 18 passes. Meanwhile the 49ers rushed for 186 yards to the Vikings’ mere 21 yards.

Garoppolo’s services are sometimes needed, of course. Against the Saints in Week 14, he threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Or how about 424 yards, four touchdowns and 45 passing attempts against Arizona in Week 10? But Garoppolo’s playoffs numbers will soon be juxtaposed against Patrick Mahomes’. They will look paltry in comparison and assumptions will be made, which is just fine with the 49ers and their quarterback.

“[Jimmy’s] OK with it, everyone’s OK with it because we’re all in here celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl,” said right tackle Mike McGlinchey. “Jimmy’s been great all year in every situation. These last two games people are probably going to go and say he didn’t do enough, we’ve dominated football games because we’re able to run the football ... It’s satisfying to everyone across the board because the last two games haven’t been close offensively.”

Ask any 49ers player about the team’s secret sauce and they all cite aspects of the culture: focused, highly unselfish and loose. Shanahan, along with general manager John Lynch, didn’t strategically craft an all-star team, though the increasing number of defensive gems may suggest otherwise. They sought players like Mostert who fit their scheme and leaders who could unite the locker room. Garoppolo inspires teammates with his work ethic but also his chill, even-keeled demeanor and friendship. It’s the same reason he was as ecstatic as anyone in the locker room even though his numbers on Sunday were comical.

As the celebrations wound down, Garoppolo sat at his locker surrounded by members of his family, and someone passed him the Halas Trophy, the trophy given to the NFC champion. He briefly stared at it with wonder. Was he thinking about how ridiculous it was that he only had eight pass attempts? Nah, he was probably just thinking about how proud he is of his teammates.

Quote of the week

“Who knows what can happen. It’s a long year, but this one will always be special because it became fun again.” - Aaron Rodgers, following Green Bay’s loss.

Rodgers was surprisingly upbeat after his team were eliminated, thanks in large part to his inability to adjust to San Francisco’s defense. Rodgers clearly prefers Matt LaFleur to Mike McCarthy as his head coach, and who knows what can happen if the Packers add a few core pieces including a complementary receiver to Davante Adams. But Rodgers is 36 and doesn’t produce the number of perfectly placed passes and magic moments he once did.

MVP of the week

Patrick Mahomes had plenty of reason to be cheerful on Sunday. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs. Mahomes hasn’t quite received the attention he did in 2018. Perhaps it was due to Lamar Jackson’s incredible campaign or a slight regression in numbers (it’s pretty hard to top 50 touchdowns). Well, on Sunday he reminded the NFL why he is the league’s most dominant force under center. In Kansas City’s win over Tennessee, Mahomes was a gem, throwing for three touchdowns, running in another and passing for 294 yards. Be it a head fake on his 27-touchdown run to end the first half or a flawless 60-yard bomb to Sammy Watkins to wrap up the win, Mahomes stepped up big and is the primary reason Kansas City are favored to win the Super Bowl.

Stat of the week

15. That’s the number of years between Super Bowl appearances for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. He makes his first return to the Super Bowl since 2004 after a long history of playoff disappointment that has included blown leads, blowouts and last-second losses. It’s been a stigma attached to Reid but he has also had enough success that a Super Bowl win would put his postseason record over .500.

Related: Chiefs reach their first Super Bowl since 1970 as Mahomes tames Titans

After Sunday’s win over the Titans, Reid showcased his sense of humor when he told reporters, “Fired up to go to Miami but need to go on a diet so I can fit in my clothes.” Reid is going to be just a little more delightful for the media in Miami than the hooded head coach who represented the AFC in the past three Super Bowls.

Video of the week

Travis Kelce fought for his right and he is going to party up a storm in Miami. We’ll see if he has any functioning vocal cords left come Super Bowl Sunday.

Elsewhere around the league

Odell Beckham Jr enjoyed himself during LSU’s victory over Clemson, until he decided to hand out a slap. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

-- The Cleveland Browns’ season ended a while back but Odell Beckham Jr made plenty of news this week. While at the College Football National Championship, former LSU star Beckham was seen handing out wads of cash to Tigers players after they defeated Clemson. Minutes later Beckham was caught on camera slapping the butt of a security guard in the LSU locker room. New Orleans police pressed charges - charges that were later dropped - but Beckham’s butt slap was viewed anywhere from weird to highly inappropriate. Handing college players a sliver of cash when the NCAA brings in billion dollars for itself every year is a far more layered situation.

-- Speaking of Beckham, the Browns quickly hired Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to become the franchise’s fifth head coach in five seasons. Stefanski, along with a general manager who has yet to be hired, will be tasked with implementing a culture overhaul. Big personality guys like Beckham and Baker Mayfield will be under the microscope in year one as the new regime decides whether they are part of the organization’s long-term plans.

-- Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, a nine-time Pro Bowler, unexpectedly retired at the age of 28. While Kuechly cited overall injuries and an uncertainty if he could still “play fast and play physical and play strong,” he did suffer three known concussions in three years. Kuechly continues a trend of young NFL stars opting to retire early and live their NFL afterlives in, hopefully, sound health.