When an NFL team has a franchise quarterback, it can overcome some serious mistakes — like allowing a touchdown on a punt return. It can extend drives — like converting on more than 10 third downs. It can dominate possession — like holding the ball for an additional 17 minutes than its opponent.
The 49ers have a franchise quarterback. The offense failed to score a touchdown, but — relative to everything the Niners have done over the last two seasons — Jimmy Garoppolo was masterful in his debut, beating the Chicago Bears 15-14.
Both of Kyle Shanahan’s career wins have come against coaches who are unlikely to keep their respective jobs after the season. But, his first road victory was worthy of celebration because the 49ers dominated in every category.
The Faithful would’ve been content with what they saw out of Garoppolo before the Niners’ final drive of the game. He’d already proven that he was capable of running Shanahan’s quick-hit offense at a far better level than any of his predecessors.
But, it was that last time the 49ers would get the ball that’ll cement his status as savior — for at least the next week.
The offense took over inside its own 10-yard line with 5-plus minutes to play. Garoppolo marched the Niners down to the red zone and then worked the clock to give Robbie Gould a gimme game-winner with seconds remaining. During that stretch, Garoppolo connected on completions of 13 and 33 yards. He was five-for-five and unflappable under pressure.
“Throughout the week, we’ve been emphasizing learning how to win,” Shanahan said afterward.
It’s clear that he now has an on-field teacher.
The 49ers tried to give the game away. And if it had been like the games past, they would’ve found a way to lose. They committed eight costly penalties, lost the turnover battle and struggled to run the ball — a sure recipe for disaster for most of recent history.
But, things are different now. Look no further than how they handled the postgame press conferences.
Shanahan didn’t have to talk about getting monkeys off his back like the last time he won. Garoppolo acted like this was expected and nothing to get overly excited about. They did the things that winning teams do on the field and made the noises that winning teams make afterward.
Shanahan was mostly excited about how he now has game film of Garoppolo that he can build from. “It’s nice to be able to coach off of this,” he said.
There are still several steps and upgrades that need to be made, but — for the first time in a long time — the Niners are heading in the right direction.
IT’S GOULD, JERRY
For 11 seasons, Robbie Gould was the kicker of the Chicago Bears. He was responsible for 1,348 points over that span. For years, he was a model of consistency for a team that needed to win the hard way as it struggled with subpar offenses.
After he was released in September 2016, Gould went on a soul-searching mission to re-examine why he wanted to play football.
He eventually landed with the 49ers, signed to a two-year deal this offseason, and chipped in all five of his attempts on Sunday — his first time back at Soldier Field.
“To kick a game winner, I don’t know if I could’ve written it any better,” he admitted to reporters afterward.
Garoppolo will be the one remembered from this game. And rightfully so as Gould didn’t attempt a field goal longer than 35 yards. But, it was the kicker that validated the good feelings around the quarterback’s debut.
BEST IS YET TO COME
The Niners delayed Garoppolo’s launch for several reasons. Chief among them was they didn’t want to expose him to too many hits before he had a full complement of weapons.
On Sunday, he showed that CJ Beathard’s tendency to hold onto the ball for too long was a main reason why he took 10-plus hits per game, and that a great quarterback makes his skill players better.
Marquise Goodwin looked like a dynamic, do-everything receiver — the kind of guy that you feel great about having next year for just $2.75 million. The speedster caught eight passes for 99 yards.
Rookie Trent Taylor looked to be another of John Lynch’s draft-day steals, catching six balls for 92 yards. The last being a game-saving chunk of yardage on third down. He produced despite fighting flu symptoms all day.
Those two will be solid secondary receivers next year, when Pierre Garcon will be back and the Niners will have presumably bolstered the ranks by continuing to purge Trent Baalke’s picks.
In Week 13, the previously 1-10 49ers started justifying the preseason hype. Apparently, they have had an offensive genius at head coach, useful role players and a young-but-promising defense.
They just needed Garoppolo around to show the rest of the world.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.