Jimmy Garoppolo's first start with 49ers provides a win -- and some hope

CHICAGO -- Jimmy Garoppolo's first game as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback wasn't perfect. In fact, there's plenty of room for improvement for both Garoppolo and the Niners' offense moving forward.

But while the Niners didn't exactly light up the scoreboard despite a dominant statistical edge, Garoppolo was good enough to steer San Francisco to the points needed for its second win of the season, a 15-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

"Since I have been around Jimmy, which has not been too long, he has been the same guy every day, never seems too high, never seems too low, and that is what you want in a quarterback," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "And he kept that throughout the game. By no means was everything perfect but the guy did not change, and that's what you want. It allows you to overcome mistakes and to handle when you are doing real good and to not lose your focus.

"I did not have a ton of expectations going into the game. I knew that he was going to work his hardest and do his best, and it was fun to watch him do some real good things and it was real fun to watch him lead us to a win."

With Garoppolo standing tall in a generally clean pocket, the Niners' offense had a much different look than it has had for most of the season. Garoppolo made quick, timely decisions and repeatedly delivered accurate passes at every level of the defense.

Never was that more evident than on the 49ers' final drive, as they took over at their 8-yard line and calmly put together a 14-play, 86-yard drive that chewed 5:23 off the clock and ended with the go-ahead field goal with four seconds remaining. Garoppolo found rookie wideout Trent Taylor on third-and-9 from San Francisco's 49 to get to Chicago's 18 and set up kicker Robbie Gould's 24-yard field goal to win it.

It was a fitting end for Garoppolo and Gould, both of whom have ties to Chicago, as Garoppolo grew up in the area and Gould is the Bears' all-time leading scorer. Gould converted all five of his field goal tries to account for all of the Niners' scoring.

"We knew we were moving the ball well," Garoppolo said. "We were killing ourselves with penalties, really, and self-inflicted wounds. We talked about it at halftime, anything we could shore up, we tried to. The last drive, down two points at the end of the game, that’s right where you want to be."

By the time Garoppolo's day was done, he had thrown for 293 yards on 26-of-37 passing with an interception for a passer rating of 82.4. The numbers would have looked even better were it not for the interception, which was the first of Garoppolo's young career, coming on his 104th attempt. Even that miscue wasn't really Garoppolo's fault, though, as he threw over the middle for receiver Louis Murphy, who appeared to have a catch for a first down but couldn't hang on as Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller ripped the ball away from him.

Aside from that, Garoppolo looked the part of a quarterback making his 30th NFL start, not his third. He made only one other questionable decision, forcing a pass into triple coverage for Murphy in the second half, but he got some retribution for the interception as Murphy made the catch in a crowd.

It helped that Garoppolo had good protection for most of the day, taking just five hits. Even when the Bears did get some pressure, Garoppolo excelled. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garoppolo was 9-of-12 for 115 yards against the blitz, a vast improvement for a team that completed 49.6 percent of its passes against the blitz entering the game, 29th in the NFL.

And Garoppolo also took advantage of play-action, a great sign moving forward considering Shanahan's preference for it. He completed all nine of his passes off play-action, another big step up after the Niners completed 54.5 percent (30th in the league) on such passes previously.

Garoppolo even somehow managed to be on the same page with his new receiving targets. On eight targets to wideout Marquise Goodwin, Garoppolo completed eight passes for 99 yards. He also was perfect throwing to Taylor, connecting six times for 92 yards. Not bad for a group of guys who had only gotten regular practice reps together earlier in the week.

"It’s very impressive," Goodwin said. "He’s just a confident guy. When you play with confidence like that, you feel unstoppable. So I’m just happy that he came in here and got a win, helped the organization get a win under its belt. It does so much for him as a quarterback, as a person, as a leader and it does a lot for this organization moving forward."

Despite all of that, the Niners continued to hurt themselves with many of the same mistakes they've made all season. The 49ers settled for field goals on four trips to the red zone, largely because of self-inflicted mistakes that led to unfavorable third downs. They committed six penalties once they got into the red zone on those possessions, with four of those being accepted.

Instead of opportunities for touchdowns near the goal line, the 49ers repeatedly found themselves looking at third-and-goal from outside the 10. The lack of touchdowns made life far more difficult for the 49ers than it had to be in a game in which they outgained Chicago 388 yards to 147 and had 23 first downs to the Bears' eight.

Unlike most games this season in which similar issues have cropped up, the Niners were able to overcome those mistakes Sunday and seal the deal. They had Garoppolo to thank for much of that. While the inability to finish drives undoubtedly was frustrating, it's also a sign that there are many obvious ways for the Niners to continue to improve with Garoppolo under center.

"You see a lot of different games, different ways to win," Garoppolo said. "It’s not always the prettiest win, but at the end of the day you want to get the W. So, the red zone, it’s a tough area, it’s just like third down, tight windows, you have got to get on the same page with guys and only having been here a short while, it’s going to take a little time, but I think overall we’re going in the right direction."

Garoppolo and the Niners managed to do just enough to win. And though the victory is nice, what Garoppolo showed in his first 49ers start supplied the franchise with something much more important for the future: hope.