49ers won’t bench Jimmy Garoppolo for Trey Lance after Week 16

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The 49ers just watched Jimmy Garoppolo have one of his worst games of 2021 against the Titans, but that doesn’t mean Trey Lance will suddenly start now.

The San Francisco 49ers optimists and apologists will tell you the Week 16 Thursday Night Football debacle was just one game, a disappointing 20-17 loss the Niners probably weren’t going to win anyway, at least not having to travel two time zones east on a short week against a still-potent Tennessee Titans squad.

Perhaps. But it doesn’t cover up the fact quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo just played arguably his worst game of the season, tossing two brutal interceptions and nearly throwing a third, while also missing a wide open fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, on what would have been a walk-in touchdown.

Tennessee scored seven points off one turnover, prevented a golden touchdown opportunity on the other, and Juszczyk could have made it a total of 21 points Garoppolo single-handedly kept off the scoreboard.

OK, overreactions and hot takes aside, Garoppolo is still nevertheless the reason why the Niners lost this game. Not because of an atrocious third-down defense, which was bad and gave up nine conversions to the Titans on 16 attempts, and not all because Tennessee wide receiver A.J. Brown went off with 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.

If Garoppolo makes those throws, or even just avoids the turnovers, San Francisco wins.

Still, as the calls for rookie backup quarterback Trey Lance ultimately start to heat up again, don’t expect head coach Kyle Shanahan to make the inevitable switch.

At least not this season.

Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo is still frustrating 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan

There were two telling quotes from Shanahan after the game. The first, essentially a cover-up for Garoppolo’s wholly inexcusable mistakes, tossing those two interceptions:

Looking solely at the words, it’s easy to assume Shanahan doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And that’s what a lot of the shortsighted analysis will say, too.

In reality, though, Shanahan is privately as pissed as much about Garoppolo giving this game away as anyone else, and it’s a trend stemming over the course of multiple years that ultimately convinced Shanahan and the 49ers to trade up aggressively and draft Lance at No. 3 overall last April.

If Shanahan didn’t want to move on from Garoppolo, that never would have happened. Ever.

Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo brutally costs 49ers Week 16 game vs. Titans

But there was a subtle, less-obvious move and subsequent quote from Shanahan that pointed out the coach’s mistrust of Jimmy G. Late in the second quarter, with the Niners still possessing all three timeouts and over a minute remaining, Shanahan got conservative and elected to run out the clock towards halftime while hoping to preserve a 10-0 lead despite Tennessee getting the ball back.

Shanahan’s rationale? “There was 19 seconds and I didn’t want it to lead to a turnover and give them anything,” he said.

Talk about a head coach who doesn’t trust his quarterback to avoid more mistakes.

Why 49ers still won’t shift from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance

Shanahan could have easily called out Garoppolo for the interceptions and missed opportunities. He didn’t.

It’s a simple reason why: Shanahan isn’t going to throw Jimmy G under the bus with San Francisco still in commanding position for a playoff berth. Still holding onto the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture, making a sudden switch to Lance isn’t something that’d bode well for the offense.

As promising as Lance could be, it’s still important to recognize Lance has just one start at the NFL level, a loss to the Arizona Cardinals way back in Week 5, and hasn’t taken any meaningful snaps since then. And if you’re looking at Garoppolo’s bigger picture, one which includes the 49ers winning five of their six previous games, Shanahan is likely still holding onto the belief Garoppolo gives his team its best chance of winning right now.

And with the pressure the Niners are facing just to get into the playoffs following three losing seasons out of four under Shanahan’s tenure, asking a rookie to suddenly come in and immediately drive an offense not wholly familiar with him would be too tall a task.

Shanahan won’t make that change. Not until 2022 at least.

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