SANTA CLARA — There was a hint of change as the 49ers came out for the second half Sunday when Jimmy Garoppolo never put on his helmet and then gave a hug to Trey Lance.
Was this the switch fans and media had been waiting for after the 49ers had dominated the first half only to be tied 7-7?
Not exactly. The announcement came during Lance’s first drive. Garoppolo injured his right calf during an opening drive during which he completed all six of his passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. He was done for the day.
“I felt something go in the calf,” Garappolo said after the 49ers fell 28-21 to the Seattle Seahawks. “In between series I could feel it tightening up. Felt like I could gut it out. I tried to for the first half. It’s just tough, man. I’ve been in this situation too many times. It’s getting real old.”
All the mental gymnastics from the outside about when the Garoppolo to Lance transition of power would take place was better served by being patient and simply waiting for Jimmy G to be unable to take the field. No one questions his toughness, but not every physique, no matter how impressive, is built for NFL durability. Of the last 64 games Garoppolo has been with the 49ers, he’s played in 28.
History suggested Lance would be on the field sooner rather than later, and it happened in the fourth game of the season. There will be more information available Monday when Garoppolo has an MRI. But Garoppolo himself said he hoped it would be a “two week” thing. That puts Lance front and center for the unbeaten and NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals on the road in Week 5. Coach Kyle Shanahan said “we hope it’s not as bad as we think,” another indication Garoppolo could be out next week.
It’s far from ideal, and isn’t helped when you consider left tackle Trent Williams left with a shoulder injury in the second half and did not return. The opponent, Arizona, has one of the NFL’s most explosive talents at quarterback in Kyler Murray and just put a beatdown on the Los Angeles Rams.
There was also a decrease of production in the second half from tight end George Kittle, who was playing with his own calf injury and targeted just twice in with no receptions.
Is Lance ready for this if he’s called upon to start?
“Yeah, he’s got to,” Shanahan said. “We’ve been playing with a rookie running back since the second play of the first game. And we’ve got a rookie quarterback right now and hopefully Jimmy’s better and not as bad as we think, but Trey is here for a reason.
“You want to give him the time. You want him to be fully ready. But you don’t always have that luxury.”
Lance finished 9 of 18 for 157 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and had seven rushes for 41 yards, keeping plays alive with his legs. Pretty good numbers for one half of football. One of the touchdowns, a 76-yard strike to Deebo Samuel, was essentially a gift against a horribly blown coverage.
Shanahan said there was “some good, some bad. It was a tough situation when we got down two scores. He did a good job moving the chains a couple of times.”
The 49ers play-caller and designer didn’t exactly cut Lance loose, playing it close to the vest initially with a series of read option plays. And although the 49ers ended up outgaining Seattle 457 to 234, they weren’t to be mistake for a smooth operating unit by any stretch.
That could be found on the other side of the field, where Russell Wilson was efficient and under control if not exactly explosive.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 3, 2021
“I didn’t realize Jimmy was coming out until the last minute, so we had to mix and move on the fly,” Shanahan said.
There were rookie mistakes, such as the time when the 49ers had to call a time out with 8:52 left, trailing 28-13, to avoid a delay of game. Or an illegal shift penalty on fourth-and-one because Lance called for the snap before players were set. Lance wouldn’t specify how much work he got during the week, but it probably wasn’t much other than the specific plays in the package of plays Shanahan thinks he may use on game day.
Lance, to his credit, made no excuses. There were headset issues which complicated communication with Shanahan.
“It was a little different, a little frustrating, for him and for me,” Lance said.
How about first-game nerves considering his first pass to Kittle was low and his second to Samuel was high?
“I don’t want to say nerves or adrenaline or anything like that because I’ve been in games before,” Lance said. “For me, they’re easy throws, like maybe thinking too much on the one to George and the one to Deebo was probably a throwaway more than anything, trying to save Deebo.”
Assuming Lance starts against Arizona, Shanahan’s mettle as the 49ers offensive mastermind will be fully tested this week. He’ll have a chance to install a game plan specifically to suit Lance, rather than a handful of plays, although there’s no guarantee how much Kittle will practice or if Williams will even play.
“We have packages for him, but the offense wasn’t built for him,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers for the most part did their job defensively. They sacked Wilson three times, held Seattle to 2-for-10 on third down and gave up just 234 yards of offense.
So it’s up to Shanahan to put together an attack with Lance and get the 49ers rolling or all the talk of being a title contender will begin to look more like a march to 9-8.
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Author: Jerry McDonald