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Could some players be relieved 49ers’ season is in Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands?

The rain was soft and steady. The sky was grey. And the mood, by all rights, should have been melancholy.

Yet something surreal was happening at Levi’s Stadium late Sunday afternoon as the San Francisco 49ers were on the verge of completing their beatdown of the Seattle Seahawks and evening their record at 1-1. With two minutes remaining, a 13-point lead and the ball at the Seattle 2, Jimmy Garoppolo — the Niners’ discarded and resurrected quarterback — took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff to Jeff Wilson Jr., charged into the heart of the Seahawks’ defense and lunged for the end zone.

Wait — was this real life?

In unison, 71,597 fans gasped. Garoppolo was playing because the team’s 22-year-old starter, Trey Lance, had gone down with a broken ankle on a similar play late in the first quarter, ending his season and making Jimmy G.’s health a massive priority. Suddenly, he was the fine china, and breaking was not an option.

Then, in an instant, the crowd roared in premature celebration. Several Niners players screamed “He got in!” and Garoppolo, his helmet bars pushed up toward his eyes, argued vainly for a touchdown signal that wouldn’t come.

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo passes in 3rd quarter against Seattle Seahawks during Niners’ 27-7 win in NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, September 18, 2022.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Against all reason, the idea of Garoppolo punctuating this game with a trip to the end zone meant something — to the fans, to the quarterback and especially to his teammates. As much as Lance’s season-ending injury cast a pall over the proceedings, the good vibes provoked by Garoppolo’s return overshadowed everything.

“It felt good,” Garoppolo said afterward, smiling like a man who’d just learned that the Crohn’s disease diagnosis had been amended to a temporary case of the runs. “It felt right.”

For a player who’d been displaced, given up for gone and brought back at a reduced rate to back up the guy who’d been handed his old job, this was a Sunday to savor. Though he and his teammates felt sincere empathy for Lance (“Just atrocious, and crushing,” star tight end George Kittle said of the injury), they understood three things quite clearly in the wake of their 27-7 thrashing of an NFC West rival.

First, Garoppolo’s resilience and unruffled temperament — not to mention his ability to perform at a high level despite having received zero practice reps — are not even close to normal. “It’s amazing, really,” one 49ers coach said afterward.

Secondly, for better or worse, this organization has become Drama Central. “We’re outrageous, aren’t we?” asked Kittle, who has missed the season’s first two games with an injured groin but plans to return for next Sunday night’s road clash with the Denver Broncos.

Thirdly — and this is the part no one wants to say publicly, but something several players and coaches enunciated privately in the wake of Sunday’s game — the 49ers are a better team right now with Garoppolo at quarterback than they were with Lance.

As two of these realists told me after the game, “I can’t say it, but you can.”

So I will: For all of Lance’s potential, coach Kyle Shanahan’s plan to have the raw second-year player learn on the job while quarterbacking a team built to win now was not universally acclaimed inside the locker room. Garoppolo, 35-16 as a Niners starter, inspires more hope, at least in the short term.

That’s partly because Garoppolo quarterbacked the team to the brink of a championship three seasons ago, and very nearly helped get them back to the Super Bowl last January. He accomplished the latter despite painful injuries to his throwing shoulder and thumb, and with very little margin for error, earning a ton of locker-room capital along the way.

On a more practical level, Garoppolo is tough and calm and projects positive energy — and has been far more accurate than Lance when it comes to throwing the short, middle-of-the-field passes into tight spaces that have been the lifeblood of Shanahan’s offense.

Garoppolo’s numbers on Sunday weren’t exceptional: 13-of-21 for 154 yards, with one touchdown (a nice 38-yard backside throw to wide-open tight end Ross Dwelley early in the second quarter) and no interceptions. His handling of an unforeseen and bizarre scenario stood out much more — in the words of linebacker Dre Greenlaw, “Jimmy’s the perfect guy to be in this position.”

“He’s built the right way,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “It’s pretty crazy (that he’s starting again). You hate for it to happen that way. But golly, we know what Jimmy’s capable of. We’re just gonna ride him going forward.”

Said fullback Kyle Juszczyk: “He was 100 percent ready to go, and he literally had zero hiccups. He was incredible in terms of prep: We ran it 45 times (for 189 yards), and there was a lot of motion and cadence and checks, and everything went smooth.”

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates touchdown run by Kyle Juszczyk in 2nd quarter against Seattle Seahawks during NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, September 18, 2022.

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates touchdown run by Kyle Juszczyk in 2nd quarter against Seattle Seahawks during NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, September 18, 2022.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

That’s especially impressive given that, according to one source familiar with the Niners’ practice week, Garoppolo had zero reps.

SOURCE: https://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/michaelsilver/article/Could-some-players-be-relieved-49ers-season-is-17450767.php

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