SANTA CLARA (AP) — Off the field, out of that No. 10 uniform that is becoming all the rage around here, Jimmy Garoppolo hardly stands out as the star of the San Francisco 49ers.
Understated in an open denim button down with the sleeves rolled up over a white T-shirt, he made his way through the tunnels of Levi’s Stadium to loud chants of “Jimmy!” and “Yay, Jim!”
It very well could have been his teammates and coaches doing the cheering — that’s how happy they are to have Garoppolo on board.
The Niners needed three tries this season and they’ve finally found their quarterback of the future — and the now. They’ve won three straight in comeback fashion, with Garoppolo under center.
He threw for a career-high 381 yards and a touchdown, Robbie Gould kicked a game-winning field goal from 45 yards as time expired, and San Francisco topped the contending Tennessee Titans 25-23 on Sunday, giving the 49ers (4-10) their first three-game winning streak since 2014.
“It’s good to be in these close games,” Garoppolo said. “There’s different ways to win in this league. It’s not always going to be pretty.”
He even outdueled Marcus Mariota down the stretch as the teams traded field goals. Mariota threw for 241 yards with two touchdowns while completing 23 of 33 passes, but Tennessee (8-6) lost its second straight out West.
“We left Nashville in first place in our division and now we’ve lost two in a row,” Mariota said. “We have to take what we learned and bounce back.”
First-year 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has studied all the tape on Garoppolo, back to the quarterback’s college days at Eastern Illinois. He knew full well about his tutelage under Tom Brady in New England’s successful system.
Now, Shanahan is seeing it with his own eyes.
“He’s always looked good on tape,” Shanahan said. “... You hope to see that each week but you never know ‘til you start to play. He’s been just as good as advertised if not better.”
Garoppolo completed 31 of 43 passes to go over 300 yards passing for the second straight game after last week’s win at Houston.
He became the first 49ers quarterback since the merger in 1970 to win each of his first three starts and just the second QB to do so in franchise history. Y.A. Tittle did so spanning the 1951-52 seasons.
Garoppolo threw a 5-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tight end Garrett Celek — whose great play in recent weeks has earned him the nickname of “Celek Time.” Celek later had a 41-yard catch.
“It is very fun. Football at the end of the day is a little kids’ game that grown men get to play,” Garoppolo said. “I’m just privileged to get to do that every day.”
Here are some things to take from Sunday’s game:
Tennessee stayed in Arizona to practice after last week’s road loss to the Cardinals before playing the 49ers. Two disappointing defeats to the NFC West could wind up costing coach Mike Mularkey’s team a playoff berth, though the Titans now go home for their final two games: against the Rams and Jaguars.
“We have a chance to still get in the playoffs. We have to win at home with two games that we have,” Mularkey said. “... Exactly how you would feel if you lost in the last play of the game is how they feel right now. They’ll get over it, which they have in the past.”
Gould is treating every field-goal try like his own playoff chase, just as the 49ers committed to do over the final weeks as they try to impact the positioning of their opponents.
Gould sure did his part with that big kicking foot. He made six more field goals Sunday, three in the final nine minutes that included the game-winner from 45 yards as time expired. He has converted 20 straight attempts and is 36 of 38.
“We talked about beating a playoff team,” he said. “That team is in the playoff hunt.”
GOODWIN’S GREAT HANDS
Marquise Goodwin already played a game last month after losing his premature son. Then last week, he dealt with the death of his father.
Goodwin took the field Sunday and made 10 catches for 114 yards in another spectacular performance.
Playing with Garoppolo doesn’t hurt.
“He’s just very in tune with everybody. It’s crazy,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played with anybody like him. If you look, my route, it may have been a good route and it may have not, but I don’t have to run a perfect route.”