It was a night of dramatic twists and turns, at least by preseason standards, as the San Francisco 49ers made their first of what they hope will be three visits to SoFi Stadium this season, and beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 15-10.
Rookie quarterback Trey Lance had a terrible night and then an awesome night, a night that proved he’s probably not ready to be named the Week One starter, but a night that showed why he was the third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
That being said, 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan said that his feelings on the Week One QB1 have not seen much change.
“I would love for it to be more and more each week, but the situation is pretty similar right now.” Shanahan said after Sunday’s game. He also declined to officially announce Jimmy Garoppolo as the Week One starter.
“I’m not ready to make an announcement,” Shanahan said. “…It’s hard for me to give a date. It’s based off when we know and when we feel like naming it. I promise it will be by that Sunday (Sept. 12).”
The plot thickens, sort of.
Jimmy Garoppolo started the game, and the plan was for Garoppolo to play one series, Lance to play the next two, and then for Garoppolo to come in for another, but Garoppolo engineered a 16-play drive that ended on an unfortunate interception on a high throw (but catchable pass) to Brandon Aiyuk.
“First two series, I was frustrated with us not making catches on third downs,” Shanahan said. “I was really happy with the first drive; I planned on letting Jimmy get a few more series, but he had 16 plays on that first drive, and then for us to not make that play and end with a turnover, I don’t put that on him at all. Trey came in, I wanted to get him going, and on that first third down, Deebo [Samuel] should have made that play, too. We had that same situation the next series on third down, and that was a little too hard for Sanu. We sputtered a little bit around him and he lost his [confidence] a little bit, but I was glad he finished it on the second quarter.”
Garoppolo took responsibility for the high throw-turned-interception but was generally happy with the drive.
“I’ve got to get it down, no doubt, but one play, you can’t dwell on it for too long,” Garoppolo said. “Wish we would have had more opportunities to go back out there, but I think it was like a 16 or 17-play drive, so…a lot of good came out of it. Just wish I had that one a little lower.”
Lance ultimately played six series, finishing 8-of-14 for 102 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 89.9. After his first three series, Lance had a stat line that read: 1-of-6 for 9 yards and an interception. There was also an almost interception, but those don’t make it into the stats.
But then came a two-minute drill, and all of the sudden, Trey Lance was the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, throwing a 41-yard pass to Trent Sherfield and finishing his game tenure 7-for-8 for 93 yards and two touchdowns. One was to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and the other was a rather lovely 16-yard pass to WR Travis Benjamin.
“I was frustrated for sure,” Lance said. “But at the same time, I learned so much from each of those drives that was easy to just turn the page.”
It was the reverse of his first preseason game, one where he started strong and finished less so. But being able to bounce back after a rough start speaks to the poise of the rookie.
“I was happy for him,” Shanahan said. “You understand the situation. I understand whatever Trey does eyes are going to be on him. So I didn’t want him to have that pressure. But that’s also the reality of this business.”
Will Lance be the 49ers’ 2021 Week One starting quarterback? Probably not. But will he be great sooner rather than later? Probably very much yes.