Niners turn over the ball but not the game

© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 1998, 21 years, San Francisco has won its first three games.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The New England Patriots are 3-0. So are the 49ers. This is fact, not an attempt to compare.

What the Niners have going isn’t exactly the Little Miracle of Silicon Valley, but the whole idea is to win every game that’s played, and so far in the short season of ’19 the 49ers have done exactly that.

Maybe not impressively. Especially Sunday. The Niners were playing a Pittsburgh Steelers team that for the first time of what will be a long time, the rest of the schedule, was without the great Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. A kid named Mason Rudolph replaced Big Ben, starting an NFL game for the first time.

So the Niners had an advantage, but the way they performed on offense, five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions by their own young QB, Jimmy Garoppolo — became a distinct disadvantage. You usually don’t win turning the ball over five times.

Except the Niners did win, 24-20, scoring a touchdown on a pass from Garoppolo to Dante Pettis with 1:15 to play. Yeah, Tom Brady does that sort of thing and Joe Montana used to do it. Once again, no comparisons, just references. And victories.

For the first time since 1998, 21 years, San Francisco has won its first three games. Steve Mariucci was the coach then. Now he works as a commentator for the NFL Network. Just a little history and perspective.

And a considerable bit of analysis by Kyle Shanahan, who was hired as head coach before the 2017 season to get the Niners back where they were under Bill Walsh and George Seifert, winning Super Bowls.

“I’m very happy,” said Shanahan. “Very exhausted. I thought we played extremely well at some times and played extremely bad some times. Anytime you have five turnovers in a game, that means you didn’t play that well. But you take those away, I thought our guys did very well.”

Shanahan was reminded of a game last year against the Arizona Cardinals where the Niners owned the stats but lost. So far this September, it’s different.

“Everyone knows how well Cincinnati went,” Shanahan said about last week’s one-sided win, “but the game today and the game in Tampa (the season opener), those are the games that we have not been able to win here. And to have two games like that where things don’t go perfect says a lot about the character of the guys in there.”

Character, the unseen element that keeps people from giving in and giving up. So many clichés about character — when the going gets tough, the tough get going — and so many examples.

“Resilience” is the word Richard Sherman chooses. He’s one of the cornerbacks, the defensive leader. He played at Stanford. He played for the Seattle Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl.

“It’s growth,” said Sherman, the veteran, of a Niners team lacking experience but not character. “Growth on offense, defense, special teams. That’s what we did. All three units picked each other up when the other fell apart, and that’s how we were able to win the game.”

Sherman, nine years in the NFL, said he can appreciate a game like this was, grinding, struggling but, in the end, successful.

Garoppolo was battered mentally as well as physically after a game in which he threw 32 passes, had the three interceptions and completed 23, including the game winner.

“You never want to,” he said of throwing the interceptions. “Some of them were bad decisions. But when you have five turnovers, when your defense plays like that, it’s incredible to come out with a win.”

Asked about the team’s perseverance, Garoppolo said, “It’s a mindset that we have in the locker room. We know what we have, and we just have to prove it on the field now.”

Which they’ve done in each game.

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