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Jimmy Garoppolo's first start with 49ers wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to beat the Bears

The former Patriot didn’t find the end zone, but he did double San Francisco’s win total.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Jimmy Garoppolo's 49ers debut didn’t paint him as the savior of a lost franchise. It did, however, end with a San Francisco victory.

The young quarterback left Soldier Field a winner in his first start in the NFC as the Niners rallied to topple the Bears 15-14 on Sunday. Garoppolo threw for 293 yards, but couldn’t lead his team to a touchdown in a low-scoring affair. It the end, it didn’t matter.

Garoppolo found his range just in time to lead the Niners to victory

Garoppolo struggled to find the end zone against a solid Chicago passing defense. The Bears came into Sunday’s game allowing fewer than 216 passing yards per contest this fall — though part of that low number is thanks to run-heavy offenses grinding out the clock with big leads in the middle of Chicago’s 3-8 start.

The former Patriot gave his team a 3-0 lead behind a 60-yard, game-opening drive, but ran into trouble on his second possession as a tipped ball over the middle led to the first interception of his professional career.

Garoppolo would be proficient between the red zones throughout the middle of the game, but he struggled to lead his team to the promised land. San Francisco had drives sputter out at the Chicago nine, 17, and 16-yard lines en route to three more field goals that made this a 14-12 Bears lead late in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Garoppolo left his mark. San Francisco got the ball back with 5:27 to play, then dialed up a balanced game plan of runs and passes that played to its new starter’s strengths. He drove the 49ers back into the red zone as the two-minute warning hit, then allowed his running backs to grind the clock down just long enough for Robbie Gould to kick a game-winning 24-yard field goal with four seconds left on the clock to propel San Francisco to its second win of the season.

How did we get here?

The 49ers shipped a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Garoppolo in late October. The deal could wind up being a steal or a burden for San Francisco; the Pats’ rumored asking price for the potential franchise passer was set at two first-round picks. However, Garoppolo will be a free agent next spring, and while the Niners will have the chance to use the franchise tag to retain him if the two sides can’t agree on a contract, there’s a chance the young QB could be little more than a rental.

When starting quarterback C.J. Beathard injured his left knee late in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, Garoppolo made his 49ers debut. Even though the game was out of reach for the 49ers, Garoppolo still made a good impression by throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Louis Murphy with less than a minute remaining.

A few days later, Kyle Shanahan named Garoppolo the starting quarterback against the Bears. The move seemed like the logical conclusion to the 49ers continued QB concerns. After heading into the 2017 offseason with zero quarterbacks on the roster, San Francisco rolled the dice with Brian Hoyer, Beathard, and Matt Barkley.

Barkley would be cut before the start of the season and Hoyer was ineffective, handing the reins to Beathard — a rookie who threw for fewer than 150 yards per game as a senior last fall at Iowa. While the young passer had his moments, he wasn’t good enough to dissuade general manager John Lynch from acquiring some competition.

Why this is important?

The 49ers have no shot at making the playoffs this season, but understanding whether or not Garoppolo can be successful in scarlet and gold will go a long way in yet another rebuilding offseason. The 2018 NFL Draft will have plenty of talented quarterbacks at the top of the first round, but having a steady young passer in place would give Lynch the latitude to trade back while picking up extra draft assets.

That’s what happened in 2017, when sliding from No. 2 to No. 3 -- coincidentally in a trade with Chicago — netted three extra draft picks while allowing the club to draft intended target Solomon Thomas. Signing Garoppolo to a long-term deal won’t be cheap, but that’s an unavoidable cost for a team with its sights set on winning. Adding foundational players next offseason is the next step in Lynch’s rebuild -- and it could get a huge boost in the 2018 Draft.