SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo offered a humble response Wednesday for those 49ers fans pegging him as the second coming of Joe Montana.
“The Joe Montana comparisons, I think it’s a little early for those. It’s only been one game,” Garoppolo said in the wake of winning his starting debut Sunday 15-14 over the Chicago Bears.
“We are both Italian, so we have that in common,” Garoppolo added. “But it might be a little early. We’ve got a good thing going right now, we have to keep working hard, keep improving every week and keep this thing going in the right direction.”
Garoppolo’s next start comes Sunday when the 49ers (2-10) visit the Houston Texans (4-8). He can match Elvis Grbac (1995) and Jim Plunkett (1976) as the only 49ers quarterbacks ever to win their first two road starts.
Coach Kyle Shanahan understands the surge in excitement surrounding Garoppolo, who the 49ers acquired in an Oct. 31 trade with the New England Patriots.
“I love that excitement, and it’s deserving in that you should be excited we have a talented guy,” Shanahan said.
“But you also want to be fair to Jimmy, also,” Shanahan continued. “You said the words ‘Joe Montana.’ It was his third NFL game really playing (as a starter). That’s the goal. We’re excited about him. That’s the goal. Hopefully someday we can get to there. But let’s take it one game at a time.”
Garoppolo, who started and won the first two games last season in place of a suspended Tom Brady, went 26-of-37 for 293 yards in beating the Bears before a slew of family and friends from his hometown of Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb some 30 miles from Soldier Field.
Running back Carlos Hyde compared Garoppolo to “a young Tom Brady” the way he produced a fourth-quarter comeback that led to Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal in the final seconds. Garoppolo has learned to take lofty comparisons in stride.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job with that throughout my whole career, just try not to listen to any of the outside stuff,” Garoppolo added.
The 49ers have won 2 of 3 since the first 0-9 start in team history.
“It feels like a whole new season,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “We want to have more than four games left.”
A key to that renewed excitement is their new quarterback.
“Having the full offseason with Jimmy is only going to benefit us, and it will carry this excitement into the offsseaosn,” Juszczyk said. “I feel every week is going to get easier and easier for him. To see how well he played in that first game, it gets you fired up.”
And it gets some people to compare the 26-year-old Garoppolo to Montana, who was only 25 when he led the 49ers to the first of his four Super Bowl victories.
Garoppolo may not have produced a touchdown against the Bears but he did convert 10-of-18 third-down plays, their most since 2007. That led to a significant 17 1/2-minute advantage in time of possession (38:47 to 21:13), and the 49ers defense only had to play 37 snaps.
“That might be the least I’ve ever played in an entire game,” defensive tackle Earl Mitchell said. “I’ve never seen that before. It was cool.”
As Mitchell finished that quote, Garoppolo walked by. The defense’s best friend?
“Yep, there you go right there,” Mitchel responded. “Just keep us off the field.”
The offense is rapidly becoming a fan of Garoppolo’s, too.
“Jimmy’s a great guy. He gets along with everybody,” said wide receiver Trent Taylor, who had We all enjoy him right now. He likes to communicate, always making sure we’re on the same page with everything the coaches are telling us.
“It’s great to have a guy like that, a big communicator and just a leader out there for us.”
Shanahan isn’t just tailoring this week’s game plan to what Garoppolo knows best. New players got installed Wednesday, giving him three days to master them before flying to Houston.
Garoppolo has familiarity with the Texans from his Patriots days. Not only did he practice against them in training camp, he was 15-of-23 for 145 yards with a touchdown and an interception in an Aug. 19 exhibition. The Patriots later beat the Texans 36-33 at home on Sept. 24.
“Any opportunity to see them and break down there defense is always helpful,” Garoppolo said.
— Right tackle Trent Brown (shoulder) did not practice.