Sunday will mark a milestone start for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Although Garoppolo has been in the NFL since 2014, he’s started just 15 games. The former backup to Tom Brady in New England has started all five of San Francisco’s games this season, leading the Niners to a 5-0 start. But he’s never started six consecutive games in the same season.
On Sunday, that changes, with his start against Washington. It also will mark a full season’s worth of starts – 16 – in his sixth pro season, as David Bonilla of 49ers Webzone noted this week.
So, the sample size remains small.
But, Garoppolo is showing this season that the 49ers’ faith in him appears justified. Since coming to the 49ers in a trade in 2017, Garoppolo has an 11-2 record as a starter, and is 13-2 overall. This season he’s completed 69.9 percent of his passes (No. 4 in the NFL) for 1,163 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 95.2 and has taken just six sacks. He averages 8 yards per pass attempt (No. 7 in the NFL).
Though Garoppolo led the 49ers to five straight victories at the end of the 2017 season, he says this 5-0 streak feels different. He is more familiar with the offense and with head coach Kyle Shanahan, and the team as a whole is significantly better.
"That 2017 was kind of a lot of things coming together at once, all of a sudden, at the end," Garoppolo told reporters after this past weekend’s 20-7 victory over the Rams. "We put in a lot of work in the offseason. Guys dedicated a lot to this, given up a lot for this, and it’s starting to show out there."
Yet Shanahan – who says he has great faith in Garoppolo – believes his quarterback can still make improvements, particularly in protecting the football. Along with five interceptions, he has fumbled four times.
With the stout defense the 49ers now have, the Niners can win if the offense is simply efficient. Garoppolo doesn’t need to force plays, but can win just by playing smart football. Shanahan says Garoppolo doesn’t have to be a gunslinger -- though it's his nature.
"I want a guy who’s not scared to make the big play and who’s going to put it more on his shoulders and not always try to play it safe," said Shanahan. "But you’ve also got to adjust your team, too. The No. 1 thing is how do we win this game? And there’s so many ways to win football games. We’ve found a way of doing it in all five of ours and all five have been different."
Certainly the 49ers go into Washington with a solid chance of making it six wins in a row. Washington is 1-5 (with its only win last week over weak Jacksonville) and has been outscored 167-90 and is 0-3 at home. Washington is 25th in total defense, allowing 385 yards per game, and 28th in total offense, at 286.5 yards per game. The 49ers rank No. 2 in total defense and fourth in total offense.
Kickoff Sunday is set for 10 a.m.