Trey Lance's second career NFL start was full of ups and downs Sunday, but eventually, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft settled in and led the 49ers to a 23-7 win over the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium.
Lance has been slowly developing behind the scenes this season and hadn't taken a meaningful snap since Week 5 as the 49ers rode Jimmy Garoppolo back into playoff contention. But with Garoppolo suffering a Grade 3 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament on his right thumb in Week 16, the 49ers had to turn to Lance against the Texans.
And Garoppolo was there to help Lance when any issue arose against the Texans.
“Yeah, I've said a million times, Jimmy is one of the best teammates and leaders I've ever been around," Lance said Sunday when asked how Garoppolo helped him during the start. "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."
Lance and the 49ers trailed the Texans 7-3 at halftime, but the rookie led four scoring drives in the second half, including touchdown passes to Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. On the day, Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball eight times for 31 yards.
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On the whole, Lance looked like a 21-year-old who hasn't played a lot of quarterback in his life and has only made two starts (one in the NFL, one in college) since the 2019 season.
Still, Lance's performance drew a positive review from coach Kyle Shanahan.
"I was real proud of him," Shanahan said. "I thought he did a hell of a job.
"Just how efficient he was taking care of the ball, getting it to the right guys," Shanahan continued. "When he ran, did a hell of a job running. The pick was disappointing, but watching him bounce back from that -- he didn't get gun shy. He kept letting it rip.
"He made a few plays that weren't there today, too. The big touchdown to Deebo was huge."
With Garoppolo's status for the regular-season finale vs. the Los Angeles Rams up in the air, the 49ers' playoff hopes might rest on the right shoulder of Lance.
If that's the case, Garoppolo will be right there on the sidelines to help the rookie navigate one of the NFL's best defenses and get San Francisco to the postseason.