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How Trey Lance's Ankle Injury Saved the San Francisco 49ers' Season

Trey Lance had limited experience in the NFL in 2021. He started just two games last season. Although he was used occasionally in relief or on surprise plays with some degree of success. Last season Lance statistically didn't look too bad. A 5:2 touchdown: interception ratio, no fumbles and a very respectable 97.3 passer rating. So not bad at all in the passing game. But overall not wowing either. Lance had a super low quarterback rating of just 39.0. Despite QB's having traditionally higher rushing yards per attempt than other roles on the team, Lance had a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt, a longest run of just 15 yards and only one touchdown on 38 attempts. Not quite the statistics you want to see from your young mobile quarterback.

But growing pains are always to be expected with NFL quarterbacks. In my personal opinion there hasn't been a quarterback since Andrew Luck there was truly ready to be a starter his first year and he was drafted over a decade ago. Notably, Patrick Mahomes rode the bench his rookie season less the regular season finale. So there is a long history of giving your quarterback time to learn before throwing them onto the field. Lance only had one full season at the college level as a starter so taking time to develop is fully expected. Following his rookie season Trey Lance was named the 49ers' starter for the 2022 season. He had the entire offseason to get the first team reps in and build rapport with top players such as Deebo Samuel. So how did Lance's 2022 season start off?

A completion percentage of 46.4%, no passing touchdowns, just 164 passing yards, an interception and a dismal passer rating of 50.3. San Francisco would lose the season opener at Chicago 19-10. There were very high hopes for the 49ers coming into the season and losing to the below average Chicago Bears with poor quarterback play is not how many envisioned the season starting. Was it to be just a small bump in the road? (Aaron Rodgers in 2021 had a very poor performance week 1 of the regular season then went on to win league MVP) Was it foreshadowing what the rest of the season would look like? We will never know as early in game 2 after just a few pass attempts Trey Lance would break his ankle, be carted off the field, and his season would be declared over.

In what felt like a bit of a twist San Francisco signed former starter Jimmy Garoppolo to a 1-year deal. Originally, this was to be the final year of Jimmy G's contract he had signed in 2018 that would have paid him $25 million this season. Instead, his new base salary was just $6.5 million. Now that he is the starter again Garoppolo can make up to an additional $10 million this season. So that should give him an added incentive to play well. In relief of Trey Lance against the Seahawks in week 2 Garoppolo had over 60% completion percentage, a passing touchdown, another TD with his feet, a passer rating over 100 and no turnovers. The past few years Jimmy Garoppolo has had a completion percentage in the high 60's, passer ratings in the 90's or low 100's and most notably a deep post-season run last season where he led the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship game. They would lose to eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, who they are in the same division as. Along with Kyler Murray's Arizona Cardinals and Pete Carroll coached Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers already find themselves in a 4-way tie in the NFC's toughest division. Jimmy G's victory over the division rival Seahawks gives San Francisco the tie-breaker at present but only two weeks into the season there is a lot of football left to be played.

Not to knock Trey Lance, but to be blunt I didn't think the 49ers were a playoff team this year the way he was playing. There wasn't too much reason to believe that the Rams wouldn't repeat as division champs. Not that it wasn't a tightly contested divisional race last season with three teams having double digit wins and playoff berths. But it was very difficult to picture Lance in his first year as a starter being an upgrade over Garoppolo at the most important position. Garoppolo has the experience and relative consistency to emulate the success the team had last year. So while I didn't see the 49ers as a playoff team with Trey Lance I do see them as a playoff team with Jimmy Garoppolo. That's why I believe Lance's ankle injury saved San Francisco's season.


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