I experienced a mix of emotions immediately following the 49ers' third consecutive loss in a one-score game, but the one that ultimately prevailed was one of hope and optimism, as I felt we were given a preview of what the future was with Trey Lance under center might potentially look like. While it's evident that Lance is still very raw and has a lot of room for growth, his physical talent and the ceiling that comes with it cannot be ignored.
Lance's stat line likely doesn't jump off the page at you, as he completed 15 of his 29 passing attempts for 192 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. However, Lance also carried the ball 16 times for 89 yards while also regularly displaying the ability to evade a pass rush and keep plays alive long enough to create some kind of positive gain.
The biggest thing that stood out to me about Lance's debut was how frequently the 49ers' offense moved the chains as the unit drove into Arizona territory on eight out of their nine possessions. Obviously, there were issues finishing off these drives, and points are clearly what win games, not yards, but I do think that the way this 49ers' offense was able to consistently move the ball is indicative of the potential Lance's dynamic ability brings.
In the 15 possessions that the 49ers offense has had Trey Lance under center as the primary quarterback, 10 of them have resulted in the offense driving into their opponents' side of the field.
For comparison, in Jimmy Garoppolo's previous 15 possessions, only seven have resulted in the 49ers crossing midfield. So clearly, the issue becomes how to maximize these possessions by putting points on the board, but the way this offense regularly found a way to get into enemy territory is hard to ignore.
It should also be noted that the 49ers' offense was regularly behind the eight ball due to their own self-inflicted mistakes, accruing an absurd amount of penalties that regularly put them in situations where they were very far from the line to gain. I thought that Lance showed great poise during one of these situations, in particular, completing a pass to Brandon Aiyuk for 26 yards one play after the offense was pushed back into a 2nd & 25 due to a holding penalty and a false start.
The other issue was a couple of big drops by 49ers receivers. Most notably, a drop in the first half by Mohamed Sanu on 3rd & 11 from the 49ers' own 24-yard line, on a play that would have given the 49ers a large chunk of yardage and a fresh set of downs. Lance was far from perfect, but those kinds of drops are momentum killers, and this one, in particular, took the 49ers' offense off the field on a drive they could have potentially ended with some points just before halftime.
Now Lance was not without his own flaws either, as I thought his accuracy issues were on display, as he sailed a ball high (as I've said before, this has been an issue going back to his college days) that resulted in an interception on the 49ers first play of the game. I thought some of the issues we saw throwing the ball likely is what factored into Kyle Shanahan's decision to start Garoppolo to this point as well.
Lance also had a handful of throws that were batted down at the line of scrimmage, something I believe has far more to do with him staring down receivers than it does with his throwing motion or mechanics. But, again, Lance is still very raw, and these mistakes/growing pains are all a part of the process of acclimating to the NFL level. The question the 49ers need to ask is can they win now at the moment with Lance in spite of them.
The offense felt like it was given a much-needed spark, as there was a discernible difference in how the unit as a whole looked with a dual-threat under center. I think that Lance still has a long way to go to becoming a star in this league, but the potential is absolutely there, and that alone is an extremely exciting prospect when evaluating the long-term outlook for this team moving forward.