The kid is alright.
With the playoffs on their minds, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Houston Texans, 23-7, behind a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, everyone’s favorite WRB1 and a whole lot of defense.
Trey Lance started under center for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, and though he started off a little shaky and threw one very bad interception, Lance settled in.
“…[N]othing’s too big for him,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “He’s a competitor. He enjoys playing football, he enjoys working at it. I think he really enjoys the moments. I think it’s been hard for him not playing a ton this year and when he is out there you know we got a guy who the guys can follow. Now it’s up to Trey and us just to keep working with him and pushing him each week here. When the offseason starts, continuing to go even harder with it.”
Lance ultimately finished the day 16-of-23 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball eight times for 31 yards.
“I think he did some real good things,” Shanahan said. “Besides the bad interception, I thought he protected the ball real well. That was a big thing going into this game and he did a good job on all those, except for one play. I think he was very efficient, just looking at his numbers. That big play at the end was huge. For the most part, he made some pretty good decisions running the ball.”
Lance was 7-of-8 for 49 yards in the 49ers’ first five drives of the game, ultimately throwing the aforementioned interception, that led to a 14 play, 80-yard TD drive for the Texans. However, in the waning moments of the second quarter, Lance hit his stride, completing 3 passes for 56 yards to set up a 37-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
“I think I got into a better rhythm,” Lance said. “Probably settled in after that two minute drive, I think that is when I started talking to [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] and Kyle and kind of let them know that I felt settled, honestly. But yeah, hopefully can get started faster, whenever that next time is.”
Down 7-3 at halftime, Lance threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to RB Elijah Mitchell in the third and a 45-yarder to Deebo Samuel to give the 49ers a 17-7 lead in the fourth.
“First half we kind of started off slow,” Samuel said. “And as you see, second half, he played outstanding. He was able to hit a couple balls…[O]nce you see a couple guys make plays for you, it give you the confidence to keep going. And that’s what he went out there.”
The 49ers easiest path to the playoffs is to win their Week 18 match-up against the Los Angeles Rams. With Garoppolo still recovering from a torn UCL in his right thumb, it is unclear as to which quarterback will start next week.
“If Jimmy’s 100% healthy and could do everything, like perfect, then I would definitely go with Jimmy,” Shanahan said. “I’m not just going to throw a guy in after one game like this, when Jimmy’s been doing it for us all year. I think it’s going to be hard for Jimmy to be 100%, which is how most people are right now at this time of year. But Trey did a good job, if Jimmy can’t go, we won’t hesitate at all. But if we feel Jimmy can go and play confident, then Jimmy will be out there.”
For Lance, learning from Garoppolo has been a key part of his development.
“I’ve said a million times, Jimmy is one of the best teammates and leaders I’ve ever been around,” Lance said. “So for me to have him, I know he’s got my back on the sideline, whether good play or bad. He’s the first one that is talking to me and making sure that we’re seeing things the same way. So it’s a huge help to me. Huge confidence booster, just that I know that he’s another guy that’s got my back.”
Aside from the aforementioned touchdown pass, Mitchell had 21 carries for 119 yards and set a franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie in the process.
Mitchell has missed six games due to injury and is still only 122 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season.
“…Elijah has played at another level this year,” Shanahan said. “When he is in there, we’re very efficient. We always get at least what is blocked for and you guys see how good he reads those gaps. When it seems crowded, he seems to find a way to get through there. And it was a hell of an accomplishment today. They just told me right before we broke the team down that he set that record. I messed with him that it would’ve been a lot easier if he was here the last month. He’s battled through some tough injuries this year…[H]is first run for us was I think, like play 30 versus the Raiders in the last preseason game, and by play three versus Detroit, he had to replace our captain and our starting running back. He’s done a hell of a job throughout the whole year of that.”
As he hadn’t played in several weeks, Mitchell had forgotten the record was even on the table.
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) January 3, 2022
“Some of my teammates told me on the sideline,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that without my offensive linemen. All 11 blocking their butts off for me…I totally forgot about it being off for three weeks. So it was a surprise.”
The Texans 32nd-ranked offense behind rookie quarterback Davis Mills certainly doesn’t sound intimidating, but any given Sunday. And on this one, the 49ers defense knew it had a rookie QB of its own making his second start, so it was going to have to come up big.
“We knew it was Trey’s second start and we had to play a really good game to help him out,” said defensive end Nick Bosa. “I think we did that.”
Mission accomplished: The Texans had a total of 15 first downs and 222 yards of offense. They went 5-for-15 on third down and scored once.
“…[W]e always have three keys to victory for our defense, [Defensive Coordinator] DeMeco [Ryans] does, and this week we had one,” said linebacker Fred Warner, who finished the game with 15 total tackles, one TFL and a forced fumble. “It was that we had to have our most dominant performance of the year, and that that’s just in general. Obviously, we knew that Trey was going to be the starter, but we need to do that for the team. Was it our most dominant? I don’t know, got to go back and watch, but I was really happy for [San Francisco 49ers LB] Marcell [Harris] getting his first interception. We needed it big time in the game. That was huge, and I think that’s what kind of helped flip the game and get us that momentum to ultimately lead us to the win.”
A Surprise on the Field
Late in the game, Shanahan was surprised by a child that found his way onto the field and talking to the head coach.
“That scared the hell out of me,” Shanahan said. “It threw me off so bad. I didn’t know what was going on. Now I feel bad, I wish I pounded the kid, because respect. I don’t know how he got down there, but I was just looking at my call sheet and I hear a soft voice in front of me saying, ‘Holy cow, Kyle Shanahan,’ and I didn’t know if it was my son at first or what, but it startled me a little bit and then I realized it was a kid. I’ve never seen a kid run on the field, so then I said, ‘Wow, man, how’d you get down here?’ Then security got him. I wish I was able to give him something.”
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) January 3, 2022