With just under nine minutes remaining of the San Francisco 49ers' Week 16 thriller with the Los Angeles Rams, Jimmy Garoppolo had arguably played his worst game of the 2019 season.
Under seemingly constant pressure as the Rams dominated an injury-hit San Francisco offensive line, Garoppolo struggled to move the ball consistently for much of the game. The 49ers quarterback headed into what would prove his penultimate drive of the game with San Francisco's previous four offensive possessions in the second half having ended in his second interception and three successive punts.
Ending the malaise that had crippled the Niners offense and producing his best was essential at that point with time gradually ebbing away and the Rams holding a 28-24 lead. Fortunately for the 49ers, Garoppolo's career with them has been defined by his ability to deliver when it matters most. He did so twice in the final nine minutes to secure a 34-31 victory that ensures a win over the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 17 will seal the top seed in the NFC for San Francisco.
First, Garoppolo led the 49ers 91 yards down the field in six plays, a catch and run from George Kittle and a pinpoint strike to Ross Dwelley getting San Francisco in the red zone before Garoppolo took a rare trip outside the pocket on third-and-goal and hit George Kittle on the roll-out for the go-ahead touchdown.
Los Angeles responded with a field goal to tie it up again and twice had a chance to get off the field on the Niners' subsequent possession. However, on successive third-and-16 plays, Garoppolo threaded the needle to Kendrick Bourne for 18 yards and then connected with Emmanuel Sanders on a 46-yard bomb that set up Robbie Gould for the game-winning field goal.
"He was resilient," head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Garoppolo. "It was third-and-16, not the best situation to be in. Usually, you're not feeling great in those situations.
"The guys just to give him the time and for him to hang in there, the game just for everyone, wasn't perfect. Offense, defense, or special teams, play calling, the quarterback, protections. Everything was up and down throughout the whole thing.
"There were a lot of times I think that each individual on our team could feel like they had messed some stuff up. But, each individual kept coming back and to find a way to end that game there at the end was pretty special."
The resilience of Garoppolo and the Niners has been the story of the second half of their season. San Francisco has now successfully bounced back from each of its three defeats this season. The 49ers were down 16 points against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11 and twice down 13 in their Week 14 shootout win over the Saints. On each occasion, the Niners responded and prevailed and that is why, at 14-3 down in the first half and 28-24 down midway through the fourth, there was no panic from San Francisco.
Through the rigors of a season in which they have consistently battled key injuries, the Niners have never panicked and despite losing several important players, are on the cusp of homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
Going into the cauldron of CenturyLink Field, it may well take one final show of regular-season resilience to seal it. The road game in Seattle figures to be another roller coaster, even if Shanahan would rather the 49ers end their run of four straight contests decided on the last play and win in more comfortable fashion.
"As long as you win them, it's a lot of fun," Shanahan replied when asked about the Niners' string of nail-biters. "It's good practice. That's how most of these games get when you go against good teams and that's how most games are in the playoffs. I think we've gotten battle-tested throughout this year and hopefully that will pay off for us here in the long run."
The 49ers are battle-tested and they're resilient. That should benefit them in the postseason, but the short-term priority is ensuring their spirit sees San Francisco through the final and most crucial battle of a remarkable regular season.