SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers’ long-term rebuilding project looks like it’s accelerating with the addition of Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
San Francisco has won four of its last five games for the first time since 2013 and Garoppolo’s play has been the key. His 1,008 yards passing are the most by a 49ers quarterback in his first three starts in team history.
Finding a potential franchise signal caller gives coach Kyle Shanahan and first-year general manager John Lynch a chance to address other areas of the roster that need upgrades in the spring. For now, the team is coming off its first victory over a playoff contender on Sunday when Robbie Gould hit a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Titans, 25-23.
“I am very excited with how we’re playing. It makes it a whole lot more exciting going into the offseason, because you can see it in the players,” Shanahan said. “But I also know we got a lot of work to do.”
The 49ers (4-10) have two games left, including Sunday against AFC South leading Jacksonville (10-4), which boasts one of the NFL’s most ferocious defenses. The Jaguars entered Week 15 leading the NFL in opponents scoring, takeaways and sacks, which hasn’t been done throughout an entire season since the 1970 merger.
San Francisco, after starting the season 0-9, has long been eliminated from playoff contention. But Shanahan is using the end of the regular season as a measuring stick. After the Jaguars, currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC, the 49ers will travel to play the division leading Rams (10-4) on New Year’s Eve.
“When you look at teams that have those type of numbers, they have as good a chance as anyone to go all the way,” Shanahan said. “So I know it’ll be a huge challenge for us and hopefully we’ll heal up this week and look at the tape and have a plan to try to get after them on Sunday.”
A winning performance from Garoppolo against the Jags might lift expectations even higher. He set career-highs in back-to-back weeks by throwing for 334 and 381 against Houston and Tennessee, respectively. And he’s engineered fourth-quarter game-winning drives in two of his three starts.
But the real test, according to Shanahan, will be how Garoppolo handles adversity. He mostly avoided it while going 5-0 as a starter dating back to last season when helped the Patriots win two games during Tom Brady’s suspension to start the year.
“I’m sure some day he will lose and guys have rough games,” Shanahan said. “I don’t care how good you are or if you’re the greatest quarterback of all time. … In order to see how guys are doing, you’ve got to see how they respond to adversity and how they can do it over the long haul. Jimmy is going to get that opportunity and we’ll see, and I feel pretty confident he’ll handle it the right way.”
NOTES: Shanahan announced WR Aldrick Robinson and rookie S Adrian Colbert will begin in the week in concussion protocol after suffering head injuries Sunday against Tennessee.