INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- As quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo walked slowly to the locker room for perhaps the final time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, he stopped and embraced general manager John Lynch.
Garoppolo and the Niners' latest comeback attempt had just been derailed when his last-gasp fling to JaMycal Hasty bounced off the running back's hands and into those of Los Angeles Rams linebacker Travin Howard.
A dazed Garoppolo hugged Lynch back as the two shared some comforting words following San Francisco's 20-17 loss to the division rival Los Angeles Rams in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, a defeat that stung all the more because the Niners coughed up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter much like they did in Super Bowl LIV.
Minutes later, Garoppolo stood in front of the assembled media and elaborated on the emotions of the moment, staring directly into the reality of an uncertain future that likely ends with him playing for another team next season.
"[The emotions] hit pretty hard in the locker room," Garoppolo said. "I think these next couple of days it will really start to settle in a little bit. Emotions are high after a game win or loss, and it's one of those things you've got to be glad it happened, smile from it, and think about the good things. We'll see what happens in these next couple days, weeks, whatever, but I love this team. Just the fight and the battle in this team throughout the entire year has been really impressive. I love those guys."
The opportunity to play one more game with the team that traded a second-round pick for him in 2017 and signed him to what was at the time a record-breaking five-year, $137.5 million contract slipped through Garoppolo's fingers after another uneven performance in which he offered glimpses of both the good and bad that have marked his tenure with the team.
Garoppolo finished 16-of-30 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and the interception for a passer rating of 87.1. He made some big throws, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle that staked the Niners to that 10-point lead. He also made some mistakes, including missing a wide-open Kittle in the first quarter on a play that might have gone for a long touchdown.
Most of Garoppolo's damage came from a clean pocket, which he had for most of the first three quarters when the Rams managed just four pressures on 22 dropbacks. But when Aaron Donald, Von Miller & Co. turned up the heat in the final quarter, Garoppolo had few answers.
Garoppolo was under pressure on seven of his nine fourth-quarter dropbacks, going 2-of-7 with the interception. He finished the season with an NFL-high eight interceptions when pressured, including five since Week 18.
After the loss, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan wasn't ready to issue a goodbye to Garoppolo but instead offered an appreciation.
"I love Jimmy," Shanahan said. "I'm not going to sit here and make a farewell statement or anything right now. There's a lot of stuff on my mind. Jimmy has battled his ass off, he battled today and he did some unbelievable things today. I love coaching Jimmy."
Just how much longer Shanahan will coach Garoppolo remains to be seen. The writing has been on the wall for a change at quarterback since the Niners traded up to No. 3 in last year's NFL draft and selected Trey Lance.
Parting ways with Garoppolo won't be easy. Since Shanahan took over in 2017, the Niners are 35-16 when Garoppolo starts and 8-31 when he doesn't.
Garoppolo has one year left on his contract with a scheduled cap charge of $26.905 million, though the Niners would incur a charge of only $1.4 million in dead money by trading or releasing Garoppolo in the offseason.
The Niners' preference, of course, would be for a trade, with multiple teams around the league needing a quarterback and few proven starters likely to be available. For any team aiming to acquire Garoppolo, a contract extension would probably be in the offing.
"A lot of unknowns, it's not fun to think about," Kittle said. "I'm kind of more just processing losing the game before the Super Bowl, which isn't a lot of fun. But I'll get to those emotions whenever they come."
Even after such a devastating loss, multiple Niners players took a moment to acknowledge what Garoppolo provided this season. Playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb and a shoulder sprain, the Niners surged from 3-5 to a 10-7 finish and then won road playoff games against historic rivals such as the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers.
Garoppolo wasn't the driving force behind that surge, but his efficiency, especially down the stretch, resulted in a QBR (53.4) that ranked 13th in the NFL, a 68.3% completion rate that was sixth and 8.64 yards per pass attempt, which was second.
Through it all, Garoppolo never shied away from internal or external questions about his future, talking openly about how any game near the end of the season could be his last in San Francisco.
"I think he handled the season amazing," left tackle Trent Williams said. "Nobody wants to be in the position he was put in. But you couldn't tell. Jimmy is a class act. He handled himself professionally every day. I'm proud of him. He's a brother for life."
Asked Sunday night how he was able to get through such a roller coaster of a season both for him and his team, Garoppolo said, "I don't know." He credited having a lot of good people around him with helping his cause.
As he finished about a five-minute media session, Garoppolo reflected on what his final ride with the team was. A hectic, frantic season with so many ups and downs left him with a smile on his face as he thanked the media and walked off into the bowels of SoFi Stadium.
"I've got no regrets from this year," Garoppolo said.