MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jimmy Garoppolo had his shot at a storybook ending.
Convert an easy pass on second-and-five — or third-and-five — when the 49ers were ahead by three points in Super Bowl LIV, and maybe Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes never touches the ball again.
Or, once the Chiefs rallied to take the lead, leave a deep throw to Emmanuel Sanders a half-step shorter, and perhaps Garoppolo has a 49-yard, go-ahead touchdown that qualifies as the greatest 49ers play since Dwight Clark’s catch against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game after the 1981 season.
Neither happened, though. Not a lot did happen for the Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois alum in a fourth quarter that saw the 49ers lead by 10 with seven minutes to play before losing 31-20.
The 49ers’ collapse — and Mahomes’ greatness — now threatens to color the storyline surrounding Garoppolo’s career arc. In his first healthy season as a starter, Garoppolo helped pilot the 49ers to the Super Bowl. But he might never get as good of a chance to win as he had Sunday night. And he’ll have to face Mahomes for the rest of his career.
Garoppolo’s lasting memory won’t be about any great play. It will be what it felt like when the 49ers ran off the field.
“Just the feeling in the locker room,” Garoppolo said Sunday night, about 45 minutes after the game. “It’s an unreal feeling, something that I have never felt before, and I’m sure none of these guys have felt before.
“The one positive you can take out of it is, guys care about it. Guys care about each other, and guys care about the organization. A lot of good can come from this year. It’s hard to look at it right now and see that good, but a couple days down the line, maybe look back on it a little bit.”
A couple days, though, isn’t going to make the view any prettier.
With 11:57 to play, 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore intercepted Mahomes. At that moment, Garoppolo was 17-for-20 for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He had outplayed Mahomes. The game felt over.
Then the 49ers’ collapse — and the Chiefs’ surge — began. From the point of that interception, Garoppolo completed 3 of 11 passes for 44 yards with one interception and one sack. That’s a passer rating of 5.8.
“That was an opportunity for us,” Garoppolo said. “We just didn’t take advantage of it, especially right after the turnover. I think we all felt the same way coming off after that drive. It was tough.”
From his interception on, Mahomes was 8-for-12 for 114 yards with two touchdowns and a 136.8 passer rating.
Three plays stood out in the 49ers’ meltdown. Ahead by three with 5:27 to play, the 49ers chose to throw on second-and-five, and Chris Jones batted down Garoppolo’s pass. On third-and-five, George Kittle flashed open for a second, but Garoppolo instead threw wide of a covered Kendrick Bourne. That three-and-out gave Mahomes the ball back one minute and three seconds after he threw the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Garoppolo took the field with 2:39 left and a chance to win the game. Trailing by four, the 49ers started at their own 15 and got as far as the Chiefs’ 49.
On third-and-10 with 1:40 to play, Sanders, flanked left, got behind Chiefs defenders Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton on a deep post. Garoppolo overthrew him. The ball landed at the 2-yard line while Sanders, in a dead sprint, was near the 4.
“Emmanuel did a good job just getting over the safeties,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It looked like it just missed him.”
Hit him in stride, and it’s a game-changing, life-altering touchdown.
“We missed some shots,” Garoppolo said. “Just some plays that we usually make. It was a tough one out there.”
Hindsight only will make it tougher.