In a cruel bit of I-told-you-so fate, Kyle Shanahan can feel good about the controversial decision to backstop Trey Lance with Jimmy Garoppolo three weeks ago. Because Lance’s first season as a starter lasted exactly 73 minutes, and now, again, this franchise will go as far as Garoppolo will take it.
Lance will undergo surgery to repair a broken ankle and possible further damage to his right leg today in California. It’s highly likely he’ll be out till the 2023 offseason.
“I’m sorry,” is about all Shanahan could figure to say by the time he got to the injured Lance late in the first quarter against Seattle in Santa Clara. “You were playing your ass off.”
Ninety minutes after the game, Shanahan, driving home, tried to be pragmatic about the constant in the 49ers’ world since Shanahan and GM John Lynch took over in 2017. “Four of our six years here we’ve lost the starting quarterback to injury,” he said. “I mean, you just deal with it. You’ve got to. Our team really loves Trey. But these guys, they plan on winning games regardless of the obstacles.
“We’ll be somber Monday morning, but this league doesn’t wait for anybody. It’s unbelievable, really, what’s happened here. We’ve only played two years without a major quarterback injury. But really, this is the first time we’ve had a really good Plan B. It’s a long time since this franchise had a quarterback situation like this one, with two guys we know can win — probably back to Joe Montana and Steve Young. I’m not comparing these guys to Joe and Steve, but I’m talking about going into games now knowing we’ve still got a great chance.”
As much as Shanahan didn’t want to just move on, he knows he’s got to. Garoppolo, playing for the first time since January and since spring shoulder surgery, was an effective 13 of 21 for 154 yards, with a TD and no turnovers. The Niners entered the day 3-17 against Seattle in their last 20 meetings; Garoppolo piloted the team to a 24-7 edge over Seattle in his 47 minutes of play. He started five of five for 80 yards, including a zipped 38-yard TD to tight end Ross Dwelley. Garoppolo’s a metronome: You know exactly what you’re getting with him, and if the Niners can stay relatively healthy on defense, they should be able to be strong playoff contenders again — even after the crushing news of Sunday.
At 1-1, San Francisco has a chance to gain ground on the division in the next month. They’re at Denver, home to the mysterious Rams, at 0-2 Carolina, at 0-2 Atlanta. Then the schedule gets tough.
As for Lance, the reversal of fortune is shocking, after an offseason of debate about whether he’s ready to be The Man for a playoff team. And he’ll enter 2023 mostly the same way he entered 2022: with tremendous uncertainty. After starting one college season (at the mid-major level, at North Dakota State), he’ll have made four NFL starts in two seasons. Shanahan will profess confidence in him, and it’s likely he’ll believe it. But Lance will still be a major question mark, and as for who will backstop him then…that’s too far in the future to matter this morning. What matters now is a road trip this week to Denver, when another team won’t care about San Francisco’s woes. In the NFL, that’s cruel reality. Next man up. Veteran man up, in this case.
Jimmy Garoppolo back as 49ers starter after Trey Lance’s season-ending injury originally appeared on NBCSports.com