SANTA CLARA — For coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, this season has been about rebuilding for the future. But the process has suddenly been accelerated by the arrival of their new starting quarterback.
Jimmy Garoppolo starred in the team's first road win of the year, a 15-14 victory at Chicago. He completed 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards, throwing for the most yardage ever by a San Francisco QB in his first start, and led a 14-play drive that set up a winning field goal with four seconds remaining.
"(We) went in not really sure how it would be, but I think it went a lot better than expected," Shanahan said Monday.
It appears the 49ers (2-10) finally have a long-term answer for the game's most important position after winning just seven regular season games combined over the previous two seasons.
Garoppolo took over the starting job from rookie C.J. Beathard, who exited a loss Nov. 26 to Seattle late in the fourth quarter with hip and knee injuries. That allowed Shanahan to make the expected switch to Tom Brady's former backup, giving Garoppolo 33 days since being acquired from New England to learn Shanahan's offense before becoming the starter.
The results were about as promising as could be expected. Garoppolo converted 10 of 18 third downs, marking the first time San Francisco reached double-digit conversions since 2007.
Garoppolo was acquired before the trade deadline for a second-round draft pick. Since then, there's been a renewed energy in the team's headquarters, Shanahan said, with players feeling optimistic about their new quarterback.
"I don't think it's hard for people to see just the talent he has as a thrower. I know players can see that, I think fans can see that too," Shanahan said. ". We all went in pretty open minded and I think the guys were real excited for him to have some success and also excited for themselves — because it's fun when guys play well, especially at the quarterback position."
The 49ers next travel to play the banged-up Houston Texans, who dropped to 4-8 with a 24-13 loss Sunday at Tennessee.
The mandate for Shanahan's team this week will be cleaning up its offensive execution on the red zone. San Francisco outgained the Bears 388-147, yet went 0 for 5 in the red zone before escaping with the one-point victory. The game could have been significantly more comfortable if the offense cashed in touchdowns instead of settling for five field goals by Robbie Gould.
"The tighter it gets, the more exact you have to be. Everything gets harder, the windows get smaller," Shanahan said. ". But the most disappointing thing with the red zone was the penalties when we should have scored, I believe."
The 49ers were penalized eight times for 53 yards, including three that thwarted a pair of scoring opportunities in the first half.
Right tackle Trent Brown's holding penalty negated a run by Carlos Hyde down to the Chicago 3 on the first drive, leading to a field goal.
Just before halftime, consecutive false starts from tight end George Kittle and receiver Marquise Goodwin led to Gould's third field goal of the half.
Shanahan said he expects Garoppolo's grasp of the offense will strengthen as he gets more practice time as the starter.
"The more he keeps doing it, which he's going to do it here for five weeks in a row, I think he'll absorb more and he'll be able to be more decisive and just mindful when he's in that pocket how far he has to go and make the plays he does," Shanahan said.