CHICAGO -- Entering Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, it was fair to wonder if Jimmy Garoppolo was making his final start as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback in the same place he made his first one: his hometown of Chicago.
With the Niners in the midst of a four-game losing streak and rookie quarterback Trey Lance back from a sprained left knee, another loss combined with struggles from Garoppolo could have led to Lance stepping into the lineup sometime soon, perhaps even next week.
Instead, in front of more than 100 friends and family from the Chicago area where he grew up, Garoppolo put together perhaps his best overall performance of the season and the Niners improved to 3-4 with a 33-22 victory at Soldier Field.
"It means a lot," Garoppolo said. "Every game does, but coming back to your hometown, home city it just carries a little different feel to it. Just landing at the airport, pulling into the city, all the familiarity, all that good stuff, it's just a special feeling. It's a good day."
Not only was it a good day, it was a needed day for Garoppolo coming off last week's struggles in a rain-soaked loss to the Indianapolis Colts. After some early drops from his receivers, Garoppolo hit receiver Deebo Samuel for a 50-yard strike to set up a field goal just before halftime.
That completion seemed to loosen things up as Garoppolo went on to finish 17-of-28 for 322 yards with no interceptions for a passer rating of 100.6. He added a pair of rushing touchdowns, the first game in his career with multiple scores on the ground. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Garoppolo is the third player in franchise history to throw for 300 yards and run for multiple scores in a game, joining Steve Young and Jeff Garcia.
All of that came after Garoppolo's two-interception effort in last week's 30-18 loss to the Colts. That showing left the drumbeat for Lance growing louder, even as coach Kyle Shanahan declared Garoppolo this week's starter on Monday.
Despite Lance's return to the backup role, he did not log a snap against the Bears.
"I wanted to be safe with the packages for him this week," Shanahan said. "It was his first week back so I wasn't going to just put him in there just to run stuff like that."
Garoppolo punctuated the first of his rushing touchdowns -- a broken play that was supposed to go to Samuel -- with an emphatic spike. After his second score, Garoppolo uncorked a throw into the stands, the first time he'd done that since a division-clinching win in Seattle at the end of the 2019 season.
"My college roommates were sitting in that end zone so hopefully one of them caught it," Garoppolo said. "It was just so much emotion. I'm not used to really running them in like that to begin with, so when it does happen, it was pretty cool."
For all of those efforts, Shanahan awarded Garoppolo a game ball, a move that drew loud cheers from a joyous Niners locker room.
"Just coming back home in front of his fans, his back was against the wall just like everybody else in our building, but for him to step up and play the way he did today, I thought was huge," Shanahan said.
That wasn't the only game ball Shanahan doled out Sunday. The other went to someone else who made an even more important delivery on Saturday night: punter Mitch Wishnowsky's wife, Maddie, who gave birth to the couple's first child in Northern California.
"I gave one to Maddie because I heard she was very tough," Shanahan said. "And we kept checking in on them, he was saying he couldn't eat, he was throwing up, he was so nervous so he didn't get one, she got one."
After the birth of his daughter, Wishnowsky flew to Chicago on Sunday morning, arriving around 7 a.m. Coincidentally, Wishnowsky's services weren't even required as the Niners didn't punt all game. Wishnowsky did, however, handle his usual holding duties.
"Poor Mitch had to fly all the way out here and just hold balls for field goals," center Alex Mack said, laughing.
Alas, not all of the news from Sunday's game was happy for the 49ers. Free safety Jimmie Ward departed in the fourth quarter with a strained quadriceps that could keep him out for a bit.
"It's a pretty big concern," Shanahan said. "I don't know yet but when you talk about pulling a quad, it's very similar to pulling a hamstring, so we'll see if that's the case."