This is not what championship football is supposed to look like in 2020.
But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And the San Francisco 49ers didn’t need to fix a thing in a 37-20 rout of the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC championship.
They did it with a total of eight pass attempts from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a throwback performance like the NFL hasn’t seen since the 1970s. And even then, it was old-school football.
Garoppolo’s day in historic context
According to Pro Football Reference, the last time a team won a conference championship game when throwing 10 or fewer passes was the 1973 AFC championship game when the Miami Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders on a 3-of-6, 34-yard effort from Bob Griese, the fewest pass attempts ever by a conference champion quarterback.
Just like Bob Griese
Garoppolo’s performance ties Griese for the second-fewest championship-game pass attempts in Miami’s defeat of the Baltimore Colts in the 1971 AFC championship where he completed 4-of-8 attempts. Griese was efficient that day, throwing for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Prior to 1971? The last and only other time a championship team threw fewer than 10 attempts was in 1949 when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL championship. Tommy Thompson completed 5-of-9 pass attempts for 68 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions that day.
49ers got it done on the ground
The 49ers didn’t avoid passing because Garoppolo was bad. He was effective when he threw, completing 6-of-8 attempts for 77 yards.
But like the Dolphins of the 70s leaned on Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, the 49ers pounded the ground game in a 285-yard rushing effort against a helpless Packers defense. Raheem Mostert was the star of the show, tallying 220 yards and four touchdowns in a breakout performance.
The 49ers ran the ball on 42 of 50 offensive snaps.
“If it's working you stay with it,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “Our guys were running so hard. Our line coming out the ball, our backs. All eleven of our guys how they've been all year.”
Don’t look for a repeat vs. Chiefs
Will this strategy work in a Super Bowl matchup against the high-octane offense of the Kansas City Chiefs? Probably not.
San Francisco will likely need some big plays from tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel to compete with Patrick Mahomes and Co. Whether a well-rested Garoppolo is up for the challenge could be the difference in the game.
#49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be the first QB to play the Super Bowl on three weeks of rest.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 20, 2020
But it worked for Shanahan’s 49ers on Sunday. And it earned them a trip to the Super Bowl.
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