Garoppolo’s late heroics help send 49ers into playoffs

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When the San Francisco 49ers made the decision to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back this season even after trading away three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance as his replacement, it was because of moments such as the one they faced Sunday.

Garoppolo engineered a game-tying 88-yard drive in the final 1:27 of regulation that would have made Joe Montana proud and helped the 49ers get back into the postseason with...

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When the San Francisco 49ers made the decision to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back this season even after trading away three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance as his replacement, it was because of moments such as the one they faced Sunday.

Garoppolo engineered a game-tying 88-yard drive in the final 1:27 of regulation that would have made Joe Montana proud and helped the 49ers get back into the postseason with a 27-24 overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams.

“It took everything,” Garoppolo said after the game. “We say that a lot of weeks, but this one really did. I felt it after the game. I know a lot of guys in that locker room did. It was worth it though. It was one of those games that you won’t forget anytime soon.”

Garoppolo did enough when it counted to make it happen, overcoming two interceptions and a sprained right thumb to lead the late drive that tied game and the winning drive in OT for the 49ers (10-7) to send them to Dallas to face the Cowboys in the wild-card round.

Garoppolo went 8 for 10 for 133 yards and the tying 14-yard touchdown to Jauan Jennings with 26 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

“Leadership, toughness, everything you want out of your quarterback to put yourself in position to get to the playoffs,” defensive tackle Arik Armstead said. “He easily could have stepped out or made excuses. He stepped up and got the job done.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Deebo Samuel. No matter how the 49ers use Samuel, he delivers big plays. He scored San Francisco’s first TD on a 16-yard run to give him eight touchdown runs on the season, the most ever for a wide receiver. He tied the game later in the third with a 24-yard TD pass to Jauan Jennings and also had a 43-yard catch to set up the game-tying TD in the final minute of regulation.

Samuel finished the season with 1,770 yards from scrimmage with 14 TDs scored and another on the throw.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Starts to the game. The Niners came out slow again offensively for a second straight week as they had three first downs, two punts and one interception on their first three drives. This comes after San Francisco failed to score on the first five drives in Week 17 against Houston. In both games, a late field-goal drive at the end of the half sparked the offense, but the Niners might not be able to wait that long again this week.

STOCK UP

Ambry Thomas. The rookie cornerback struggled to adjust to the NFL and played just 20 defensive snaps the first 12 games. But he has been a full-time player the past five games and sealed the playoff berth with the INT in overtime against Stafford.

“I would not have believed he could have with how it started off,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That sounds kind of harsh, but it’s not. It’s a huge compliment. It took him some time, but when he got his opportunity, which was from injuries, he was ready, and he competed.”

STOCK DOWN

Jeff Wilson Jr. After delivering a couple of key performances when rookie Elijah Mitchell was out with a knee injury, Wilson has become an afterthought the past two weeks. He has played just 18 snaps on offense and hasn’t had a touch from scrimmage.

INJURIES

S Jaquiski Tartt (groin) and S Talanoa Hufanga (knee) both are dealing with minor injuries but Shanahan is hopeful they will be able to practice this week. … P Mitch Wishnowsky is in concussion protocol. … LT Trent Williams (elbow) and CB K’Waun Williams (COVID-19) also could return this week. … CB Deommodore Lenoir was activated from the COVID-19 list.

KEY NUMBER

0.4%. According to NFL NextGen stats, that was the 49ers’ win probability after punting the ball away down 24-17 with 1:57 remaining. But San Francisco forced a three-and-out, drove 88 yards in the final 1:27 without a timeout to tie it with 26 seconds left, prevented the Rams from scoring in the final 26 seconds, and then won it in overtime.

The Niners were the 14th team since 2000 to punt with less than two minutes left when losing by one score. The only other team to win was the Eagles in 2003 against the Giants when they forced a three-and-out and got a punt return TD from Brian Westbrook.

NEXT STEPS

The 49ers travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys for the eighth time in the playoffs in their history. The only matchup that has happened more in the Super Bowl era is the nine games between the Cowboys and Rams. Dallas has won five of the seven previous meetings.

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