Facing a tumultuous offseason that could include thumb surgery and his relocation to a new team, Jimmy Garoppolo still has a chance to keep his 49ers' tenure and this season alive.
It's a 50-50 chance, technically.
Garoppolo, limited by a sprained thumb in his return to practice this week, is officially questionable for Sunday's visit to the Los Angeles Rams.
By definition, that means it's "uncertain" Garoppolo will play, which is a better sign that last week, when he was considered doubtful before sitting out the 49ers' win against Atlanta, in which rookie Trey Lance replaced him and led a second-half comeback.
"I know what we're doing. I just don't feel like telling you right now," coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday in a video call with reporters.
"I think you guys understand why you don't announce it," Shanahan said, in the name of gamesmanship. "Regardless, especially with Trey playing last week, we've got two guys here with experience, that our team feels good with and we'll see how it plays out."
Garoppolo's ability to throw with a sprained right thumb — involving a torn ligament and a bone chip — was tested with him throwing on the practice field four straight days.
"I'm going to do everything I can to be out there with the guys," Garoppolo said Wednesday. "It's a big one and so whatever I can do to be out there (practicing), I'm going to be out there. But, at the same time you've got to be smart and think about what's going to be best for the team to win."
The 49ers (9-7) can keep their season alive and land a wild-card playoff berth by either beating the favored Rams (12-4), or by the New Orleans Saints (8-8) losing at the Atlanta Falcons (7-9). Ties in either game put the 49ers into the playoffs.
Lance's evaluation of Garoppolo: "I know how tough Jimmy is. I know it hurts when he throws and things like that. I know he'll do everything he can to play on Sunday. And I know he's a tough, freakin' dude. Whatever he can do, he will."
After taking all first-team reps last week, Lance said splitting action with Garoppolo provided a "unique" opportunity to talk them through with him as they unfolded. "Kyle did a great job personally able to prepare and still get some reps, not knowing obviously what's going to happen with Jimmy on Sunday," Lance said.
"Trey was better this week than last week," Shanahan said. "Everything with Jimmy was about what he was comfortable with, what he could push through and figure all parts of the game to try your best to simulate."
Garoppolo is 5-0 all-time against the Rams, but that stretches back to the 2017 season finale. His 2018 knee injury kept out the first two games of their current five-game win streak over the Rams.
If Lance gets the call for an encore start, he said his No. 1 priority is ball security; he has thrown a first-half interception in each of his starts. "They have a lot of guys that can take over and change the game," Lance added. "The biggest thing for us is taking care of the ball."
Count former 49ers quarterback Steve Young among those intrigued to see more after Lance's victorious first home start.
"I thought that the first half scared me because it was just too much," Young said on KNBR 680-AM. "The idea that 'I can kind of get ahead of it.' And then, in the second half, he settles in and actually does a lot of cool stuff. ... That's the kind of process, the cycle that we can all live with."
TRENT WILLIAMS' STATUS
No one got ruled out for Sunday's game, but several are questionable with Garoppolo, and that includes left tackle Trent Williams, whose sprained elbow kept him out practice all week.
He played all but three snaps last game, and he's missed only one game this season, when elbow and ankle injuries kept him from the 49ers' rain-soaked loss to the Colts on Oct. 24. Rookie Jaylon Moore started in Williams' place that game and seemingly would do the same if required this Sunday, with Colton McKivitz another option, Shanahan said.
Also questionable are linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair (knee), Dre Greenlaw (groin) and Marcell Harris (Achilles), plus safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and defensive tackle Mo Hurst (calf). Fully cleared are running back Elijah Mitchell (knee) and safety Talanoa Hufanga (knee).
The Rams also did not rule out any players, and none are questionable, though linebacker Leonard Floyd (ankle) did not practice Friday.
SAMUEL VS. RAMS
Deebo Samuel is also 5-0 against the Rams, and he's caught more passes against them (29) than any other opponent. He has two touchdown catches and two touchdown runs (in 10 carries) against them.
"Deebo is different when he plays the Rams, because there is a little bit of a disrespect there," Kittle said. "Deebo is a heck of a football player and people should know who Deebo is and what his name is."
That refers to a budding rivalry between Samuel and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who claimed last season not to know who Samuel was.
"I don't know if he tries extra on these game days vs. the Rams, but you can definitely feel his intensity," Kittle added. "He's going to bring it and do everything in his ability to win this game. I'm looking forward to seeing a spicy Deebo."
In the 49ers' 31-10 win in November, Samuel led the way as both a receiver (five catches, 97 yards, one touchdown) and a rusher (five carries, 36 yards, one touchdown).
"From a defensive standpoint, they haven't changed, so we know what we have to go out there and do, to keep our hopes up of making the playoffs," Samuel said. "You know what's at stake, and Kyle knows how to push us to get the win."
Cornerback Ambry Thomas came off the COVID-19 reserve list, two days after going on it for an apparent false-positive result.
Still on that list are free safety Jimmie Ward and cornerbacks K'Waun Williams, Dontae Johnson and Deommodore Lenoir, the first three of whom could get cleared by game-time under the NFL's five-day protocol; Lenoir went on the list Wednesday. Shanahan said all could get cleared by kickoff.
TIGHT END WAIVED
TIght end Tanner Hudson, who played on the Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning team last season, was waived. He played in two games this season after coming up from the practice squad.
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