HOUSTON -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 26-16 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 14 on Sunday:
1, PLAYING TO A NEW TUNE
There is most certainly a different vibe around the team these days. That was apparent on Sunday when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led the team out of the locker room flanked by Nick Kray, the administrative assistant to the head coach and DJ in charge of music.
On Kray’s right shoulder, he held a large boombox that pumped out music as the team gathered in the tunnel before taking the field. It has become part of the team’s routine.
And so has winning.
“You can feel it in our building,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Guys are gaining that confidence.”
The 49ers have won three of their past four games after losing their first nine games to open the season. The 49ers won back-to-back road games for the first time since the 2014 season (Nov. 9 at New Orleans; Nov. 16 at the New York Giants).
Garoppolo led the 49ers on five consecutive scoring drives in the second and third quarters. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 334 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I’ve only been here for a short time, so I don’t know exactly what’s changed or what hasn’t,” Garoppolo said. “I think we got a little bit momentum with us right now, and we just need to keep plucking away day by day, and just keep getting better.”
When asked if Garoppolo has elevated the play of everyone, receiver Marquise Goodwin answered, “One hundred percent.”
Goodwin explained, “Jimmy is a great guy. He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t struggle at any point in the game. When you see that in a position that he’s in, it gives you extreme confidence. When you look at him in the third quarter or in the second quarter and you’re down by one, you’re up by one, you feel that sense of hope.”
2. DEFENSE BENEFITS, TOO
The 49ers’ production on third downs was not as good as a week ago, but the team’s offense still controlled the clock to help out the defense.
The 49ers’ defense surrendered a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, but that was all the scoring the Texans did in the second half.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge day for the Texans, including two touchdown receptions. But after Hopkins’ second touchdown, the 49ers’ defense clamped down.
“We knew he was going to have his,” Shanahan said of Hopkins. “Just thought we played them better the rest of the game. We didn’t let them get by us. Caught a few things in front of us. If you can bend but don’t break against him, then you’re usually doing a good job.”
Safety Adrian Colbert got the last word against Hopkins when he forced a takeaway in the fourth quarter that led to Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal, giving the 49ers a 26-16 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
When I see something, I go full speed, and I saw (No.) 10,” Colbert said. “I was trying to hit (No.) 10 all game and I finally got my opportunity.”
3. JOHNSON’S LEARNING EXPERIENCE
The day could not have gone much worse for cornerback Dontae Johnson, who is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season. He was solid while starting the first 13 games of the season.
But never was he assigned a wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins. And never has he struggled to the point of getting benched. Hopkins caught 11 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns. Most of the damage came against Johnson, who was also flagged three times.
“It’s one of those things,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player. A few of the calls, I thought were a little questionable. At the same time, I just got to compete. He won the one-on-one matchups when it’s all said and done. Great player. Great catch radius. Great hands. Great player.”
Greg Mabin replaced Johnson at right cornerback after Hopkins caught a 29-yard touchdown pass against him early in the third quarter. Johnson threw his helmet to the ground upon coming to the sideline.
But Johnson was forced to return to the game in the fourth quarter when Ahkello Witherspon went down with a knee injury. Witherspoon is scheduled for an MRI examination. His return for the final three weeks of the season is uncertain.
So Johnson is likely to retain his starting job.
“Every time I step out there, it’s a great learning experience,” Johnson said. “I chalk this one down as performance I’d like to give back and do it again. But I’ll watch the film, learn from it, and just move on.”