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Garoppolo gets 49ers to Super Bowl with handoffs not throws

                                San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) stretches during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., today. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.
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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) stretches during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., today. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. >> Maybe it was fitting that Jimmy Garoppolo did his best Bob Griese impersonation in the victory that sent the San Francisco 49ers to Griese’s old stomping grounds in Miami for the Super Bowl.

Perhaps no quarterback since the former Dolphins Hall of Famer had ever done less in the game that led his team to the Super Bowl than Garoppolo did last Sunday when he threw only eight passes in a 37-20 victory over Green Bay.

That’s led to some predictable skepticism about whether Garoppolo should get credit for leading the Niners to the Super Bowl or if he’s just along for the ride.

“That’s wild that he takes criticism for that,” left tackle Joe Staley said Thursday. “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 acknowledged he hears the criticism that he didn’t do much to get San Francisco this far and uses it as motivation, even if he’s much quieter about it than teammate Richard Sherman, who seems to seek out doubters as fuel.

“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.”

Garoppolo completed six passes for 77 yards last week. It was the fewest pass attempts by a team in the playoffs since Griese’s Dolphins threw six times in the AFC title game against Oakland following the 1973 season and then only seven times in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota two weeks later.

The only other time a team threw eight or fewer passes in a playoff game came in the 1971 AFC championship when Griese had eight attempts in a victory over Baltimore.

The run-heavy script that seems out of place in the modern pass-happy era has been especially glaring ever since Garoppolo made one of his few mistakes in the postseason.

He threw an interception late in the first half of the divisional round against Minnesota for his 19th turnover of the season, more than any other player who made the postseason.

Since that point, he has gone 9 for 14 for 103 yards and one sack in six-plus quarters as the Niners have run the ball on 73 of 88 offensive plays.

In fact, Garoppolo has been asked to kneel down to run out the clock in that span more times (five) than he has completed a pass that traveled past the line of scrimmage (four).

“That’s just how this world works and you’ll get credit if you win a Super Bowl or an NFL MVP or something like that,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We ran the ball (the last two weeks), so a lot of people are going to say that Jimmy didn’t do enough. There’s lots of games this year that we haven’t been able to run the ball and we’ve had to win it by passing. That’s what I’m proud of with Jimmy and proud of our team, that you can’t really say that we have to win a game a certain way. I think we’ve shown that we can win a number of ways.”

One reason Garoppolo has been asked to do so little as the Niners have spent the past month playing from ahead. They haven’t trailed a game since a comeback 34-31 win in Week 16 against the Los Angeles Rams.

They have been tied or led for the past 186:14 of game action, allowing Shanahan to lean more heavily on his defense and running game rather than counting on Garoppolo to deliver the big plays.

The strategy has worked as San Francisco has 89 carries for 471 yards in playoff wins over Minnesota and Green Bay, although Garoppolo might have to do more to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Garoppolo has shown the ability to do that this season, leading four fourth-quarter comebacks and ranking tied for second in the league with three games of at least four TD passes in the regular season.

The biggest success he had came in a 48-46 win at New Orleans in December when he rallied the Niners back from a 13-point first-half deficit and then engineered the game-winning field goal drive in the final minute of regulation.

Garoppolo said one benefit of the strategy the past two weeks is the Niners have been able to hold back some pass plays that could work against the Chiefs.

“They’ll have to be on their toes,” he said, “kind of play the game out as it goes.”

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