SANTA CLARA, Calif. — About the only thing Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t thrived at in his three starts with San Francisco is finishing off drives with touchdowns.
Luckily for him, the 49ers have Robbie Gould’s right leg to turn those drives into points and help Garoppolo join Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle as the only San Francisco quarterback to win his first three starts with the team.
Gould made all six field goals in Sunday’s 25-23 win over Tennessee, including a 45-yarder on the final play, to win NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks and get carried off the field by his teammates in a memorable moment in his career.
“I love to win,” Gould said Wednesday. “I’m a competitor. I don’t think of myself as a kicker. I think of myself like a receiver or offensive lineman. I only play between one to five, six plays a game but all of them matter, all of them count.”
Gould has made the most of those limited opportunities, making 20 consecutive field goals. Fifteen of those kicks have come during San Francisco’s current three-game winning streak, which is a record for the most field goals in a three-game span, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Gould hit the game-winner in Chicago on Dec. 3 and then a late kick the following week in Houston that gave the 49ers a 10-point lead and put the game away.
“I think Robbie’s playing as good as anyone I’ve had,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When he goes out there, I never think he’s going to miss it. He’s been automatic. I’m glad he’s not getting too fatigued. I wish we didn’t have to use him so much. I wish we were scoring touchdowns more, but the fact that every time we don’t he makes it.”
The Niners have called on Gould so much of late because Garoppolo has gotten a stagnant offense moving but hasn’t been able to finish off those drives.
The 49ers have scored on 18 of 28 non-kneeldown drives since Garoppolo took over as starter earlier this month at Chicago but only three of those scores were touchdowns. San Francisco has scored TDs on just three of 10 red zone trips in those games, the fourth-worst rate in the league during that span.
“It’s probably one of the toughest areas in football offensively to execute,” Garoppolo said. “Everything has to go perfect down there. If you have a negative play or penalty, it’s tough to overcome those in general but especially in the red zone. Your percentages go way down when that happens so we have to avoid those.”
The 49ers haven’t had to dwell on those mistakes because Gould has been so consistent. He was one of several free-agent additions for San Francisco this past offseason. After a successful 11-year run in Chicago, Gould was cut by the Bears before the 2016 season.
He spent 10 games with the New York Giants last season — making all 10 field goal attempts — before joining the 49ers this spring. He has made 36 of 38 field-goal attempts with his 94.7 percent success rate ranking as the best of his career for a full season.
But he gives much of the credit to long snapper Kyle Nelson and holder Bradley Pinion.
“It’s been a fun year,” Gould said. “It has a lot to do with the guys in the locker room. I think Kyle and Bradley have done a great job all year. It’s been really easy since I got here in April. The guys who have been on our field goal unit have taken a lot of ownership and pride for putting points on the board. Those guys have a way harder job than I do.”
Since entering the league, Gould has been the sixth most accurate kicker among all players with at least 100 field-goal attempts by making 86.8 percent of his field goals and ranks third overall with 322 made field goals in that span.
But Gould prides himself on being more than a kicker. He gives suggestions to special teams coordinator Richard Hightower and is learning as much as he can so one day he maybe can be an executive in the league.
“He’s the only kicker I’ve been around who truly knows everything that’s going on,” Shanahan said. “He’ll call Hightower on Tuesday nights and try to suggest things they should do in their blocking patterns and stuff on kickoffs and punts and things like that. He really enjoys football. He comes in early. He talks to everybody, is a part of everything. He’s not just in his own little world kicking the ball and stuff. He’s really a part of this team and that’s why we consider him a leader.”