The San Francisco 49ers shouldn’t completely overreact after falling to the Chicago Bears in the season opener 19-10, but the panic meter is definitely rising.
After completing a late season push and making the NFC Championship in 2021, the 49ers have high expectations this year, and their eyes are set on getting over the hump with second-year quarterback Trey Lance at the helm.
His performance in the season opener was far from perfect, and it’s fair to speculate that despite having two offseasons to prepare for this moment, he’s just not ready. And at this point in time, the 49ers need a quarterback that’s equipped to lead them to the Super Bowl while the window is still open.
Lance failed to prove he’s capable of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl
This was Lance’s first game after being named the full-time starter for the 49ers going forward, and, to put it lightly, it did not go well. He completed just 13-of-28 passes for 164 yards and one game-changing interception.
The turnover came at an inopportune juncture, as the Bears just took a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and the 49ers needed to respond. Lance’s ball was intended for Jauan Jennings before Eddie Jackson read the play and picked off the ball.
Lance finished the game with a 46.4% completion rate and a 50.3 passer rating. Both metrics nearly ranked dead last at 32nd and 31st, respectively, among Week 1 starting quarterbacks. He was outplayed by Justin Fields, who was throwing to less talented receivers against a better defense behind a worse offensive line.
He also rushed for 54 yards on 14 attempts but losing to the middling Bears that went 6-11 last season isn’t up to the standard for a team coming off a conference championship appearance.
This wouldn’t be the first time Lance has struggled as the 49ers starter. He started two games in 2021, going 1-1 while completing 59.6% of his passes, throwing two touchdowns, two interceptions, and an 83.9 passer rating.
Then, the expectations weren’t as high because he was a rookie. Now, the stakes are much higher.
The good news is that it, presumably, can only go up from here. The bad news is that nobody knows when, or if, it ever will.
It’d be one thing if the 49ers were rebuilding, but they’re not. Their overall roster is one of the most complete in the league, and it can only be held back by Lance’s lack of growth in year two.
The rest of the 49ers roster is ready to compete for a championship
San Francisco has one of the most talented rosters from top to bottom in the NFL. On offense, they have a perennial star at left tackle in Trent Williams, who was named the 14th best player in the league during the NFL’s annual Top 100 players ranking.
The 49ers also have two All-Pro pass catchers, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, in the prime of their careers. Both men provide excellent versatility. Samuel can operate all over the field from out wide, in the slot or in the backfield, while Kittle, who missed the Week 1 loss against the Bears, is equally talented as a receiver as he is a run blocker.
Then there’s the elite defense that’s led by Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. Bosa has generated 24.5 sacks in 35 career games, including the fourth-most (14.5) a year ago. Warner, on the other hand, has led the 49ers in tackles each year since 2018 while earning one of the highest defensive grades among linebackers last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The only question mark on the team is at the starting quarterback position. It’s hard to blend developing a young quarterback and competing for a championship at the same time.
The 49ers are ready to win now, plain and simple. And if Lance is getting it done, San Francisco can turn to an already proven, veteran quarterback that’s already on its roster.
Could Jimmy Garoppolo retake the starting job?
Lance definitely didn’t silence the critics in Week 1, but some were already skeptical of the North Dakota State product even before the season started.
One week before the season opener, Peter King predicted that Lance would be benched by Week 7 in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo.
“This is a veteran team that went to battle with Jimmy Garoppolo late last season and saw him beat the Rams in Week 18, then watch him be the QB in winning playoff games at Dallas and Green Bay,” King wrote in his Football Morning in America column. “How will George Kittle and Fred Warner and Arik Armstead and Deebo Samuel, all good team guys, react privately if Trey Lance struggles the first month of the season? Will the Niners’ leadership council go to Kyle Shanahan and say, “Come on. We gotta win these games?”
Garoppolo agreed to return to the 49ers as the backup quarterback, signing a fully-guaranteed, one-year deal worth $6.5 million. He led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game last season, narrowly losing to the eventual Super Bowl champs by three points. He also captained the 49ers to the Super Bowl back in 2019.
San Francisco has put itself in a tough situation. What does it say about Lance if you name him the starter and then bench him a few weeks later? How will that affect his confidence going forward?
Furthermore, the 49ers’ schedule doesn’t get any easier over the next stretch. Prior to their bye week in Week 9, San Francisco will face off against the Los Angeles Rams twice, host the Kansas City Chiefs, and meet the Denver Broncos at Mile High. If Lance plays similarly to how he did against the Bears, then the 49ers are in for a rude awakening when they play championship contenders.
All four games will be tough matchups for the second-year quarterback. If Lance and the 49ers aren’t winning enough games, there’s a legitimate chance Garoppolo gets another stab at it before the season becomes unsalvageable.