NFL Football

Garoppolo leads 49ers to historic in-season turnaround

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By JOSH DUBOW

AP Pro Football Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jimmy Garoppolo has already helped the San Francisco 49ers make a bit of history for the NFL's best in-season turnaround.

No team that ever started a season as poorly as the 49ers did with nine straight losses has ended it as well as it is going in San Francisco with Garoppolo having led the team to four straight wins.

The 49ers (5-10) already have the best record of any team that started a 16-game season with a 0-9 record and they can double the previous best win total held by many teams by winning the season finale Sunday at the division champion Los Angeles Rams (11-4).

"We think we're playing better. But, by no means have we arrived," coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday. "We've got a long way to go, we better keep getting better."

The midseason arrival of Garoppolo in a trade from New England has been just the spark the 49ers needed. He has won all four of his starts for San Francisco and his 1,250 yards passing are the most by any player in his first four starts for a franchise.

That play has lifted the entire team and the expectations surrounding the 49ers. Running back Carlos Hyde even talked about a possible Super Bowl run in 2018 now that Jimmy G is in place.

"I definitely would want to rein that in," Shanahan said. "I haven't spoken to Carlos yet. Just from what I know of Carlos, I have a pretty good feeling that he was halfway joking.

"But, I haven't seen him yet. But, definitely that's not something that we want, because I don't believe that's the way you should think. You can't control what's going on next year. You only can worry about right now."

Ending the season on a streak such as this and falling short of the playoffs is rare. The 49ers could become the 41st team in the past 23 seasons to win their final five games but only the 2005 Miami Dolphins missed the postseason in that group.

Whether there's a big carry-over effect remains to be seen. Nearly half of those teams - 19 of 40 - missed the playoffs the following year whether it was because of quarterback injuries that doomed teams such as Green Bay this season, New England in 2008 or Washington in 2013, or natural regression that impacted other teams, finishing strong is no guarantee of future success.

"It depends on the people you have and how they show up ready to go," Shanahan said. "If you end the season on a real positive note and you've got a group of guys that like reading their own press clippings and feeling good about themselves so they can relax, then that type of stuff will hurt you.

"If you have guys who aren't fazed by whether people say good things or bad things about you, it doesn't matter. You just work as hard as you can and do as good as you can every single day, then I think we'll be all right. We feel good about where things are ending right now."

The mood is far different than it was when the season started. The 49ers struggled mightily early in the season, including a record five straight losses by three points or fewer.

But sticking together through that process has paid dividends now, according to Shanahan.

"It was hard when we went through it, but the fact that we were able to get through it and still find a way to get some wins here recently, I think it made our team stronger," he said.

"When you go through some really hard things with each other and you make it through there, I feel you get stronger from that stuff. I think our team has gotten tighter through it, they've gotten stronger, and that's led to us starting to win a few games and having more confidence. I believe our team feels that they are tough enough mentally to get through anything."

NOTES: Shanahan said the coaches all took Christmas off and he took his kids to see the movie "Jumanji" - which he gave a five-star review. ... LB Reuben Foster (stinger) and S Adrian Colbert (shoulder) will be limited this week but should be available Sunday.

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Updated December 26, 2017

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