After having a day to come to terms with the unsettling news that Trey Lance will miss the remainder of the season following a gruesome ankle injury in Sunday’s week two game against the Seahawks, many 49ers fans are left wondering, “What happens now?”.
For a year and a half, there has been a palpable excitement amongst the fanbase from the moment the 49ers selected Lance third overall in the 2021 draft. He was the heir apparent. The dynamic toolsy quarterback that was going to take the 49ers to new heights and make them a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
Now, many of those same fans are left with a gut-wrenching feeling knowing that the earliest they will see Lance back on the field will likely be September of 2023, at which point he will be entering Year 3 with just four starts under his belt at the NFL level.
Lance has now been robbed of at least two years on his developmental path, and all of the outlooks of the 49ers getting a Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen of their own will now have to be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
Coming into this season, it was easy to lay out two primary goals. Win the Super Bowl, and develop Lance. With Lance sidelined for the rest of the year, so goes the silver lining of celebrating a victory in his development despite a loss on the scoreboard.
There aren’t many moral victories to be had at the quarterback position without Lance in the fold. So what is there for 49ers fans to be optimistic about as they shift their focus to a season that has already delivered the ultimate twist with Jimmy Garoppolo back under center before Week three?
The answer? A lot. While what happened to Lance is devastating, it is a cruel and unfortunate reality that comes with the business of playing professional football. The silver lining in this entire tragic injury is that the 49ers made a wise business decision when they restructured Garoppolo’s deal to keep him in red and gold for the 2022 season.
Most teams in this same spot would be left facing a scenario where their season was over before it even got off the ground and would be staring at a very likely outcome where they are one of the bottom feeders in the NFL that also happens to be without their first-round pick in 2023.
But not the 49ers. This is still a team that has all the makings of a contender in an NFC that appears to be as wide open now as it has been in years. With Garoppolo providing a familiar and stable presence at the quarterback position, the 49ers are now in a spot where they can win the way this team was always designed to win this season. On the back of a strong running game and one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Nick Bosa had seven pressures and two sacks in Sunday’s win and currently finds himself on pace for 25.5 sacks over the course of a 17-game season. Javon Kinlaw has flashed through two games and looks every bit of the dominant player many expected him to be when the 49ers selected him in the first round of the 2020 draft.
The entire secondary has been playing with juice that we haven’t seen from that unit over the last couple of seasons, and it stands to get even better in the coming weeks with the return of Jimmie Ward and the potential return of Jason Verrett somewhere out on the horizon as well.
George Kittle is likely to return in the near future as well, adding an All-Pro skill set to an already loaded skill position group that appears to be trending in the right direction.
All things considered, this team is still very much in the race for 2022. The defense is championship caliber, and we have seen what this 49ers offense has been able to accomplish with Garoppolo when Shanahan has been able to get into a rhythm and marry an efficient run game with a devastating passing attack predicated on yards after the catch.
Losing Lance was a gut punch, and there is no way around that. But there is still a lot of football left to be played, and this 49ers team is built to win a lot of games, and history has shown that if you get into the postseason with a strong running game and a lethal pass rush, anything is possible.
Forget the doom and gloom of hindsight or thinking about where this team will be in 2023 and beyond. Instead, focus on the here and now, where the 49ers have a chance to go into Denver on Sunday night and have a statement victory against a talented Bronco’s squad while also exacting some revenge against a familiar foe in a new uniform.