49ers ride Trey Lance ups and downs, beat Texans in Week 17
By Peter Panacy
It wasn’t easy, and rookie Trey Lance had his growing pains, but the 49ers nevertheless pulled off a crucial win in Week 17 over the visiting Texans.
The San Francisco 49ers just inched a bit closer towards clinching a playoff berth and might be able to do so, provided the Carolina Panthers are able to do head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad a favor by beating the New Orleans Saints.
But the Niners had to worry about their own business in Week 17 against the visiting Houston Texans, which included letting rookie quarterback Trey Lance suddenly get the spotlight in the wake of fellow signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo being out with a thumb injury.
With a win and a Saints loss, San Francisco would clinch a playoff berth. And after the 49ers won on Sunday by a score of 23-7, part of that equation is complete.
Yet it didn’t quite get out to the start Shanahan and Co. had hoped for.
Trey Lance struggles early, bounces back in 49ers win
Lance looked like a quarterback who had only one full year as a starter in college and hadn’t seen that much action since that 2019 season.
If anything, the entire Niners offense looked out of rhythm, and it was clear Shanahan was having difficulty coming up with a set of plays that would work out well for the No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick.
Lance completed 10 of 13 first-half passes with an underthrown interception Houston was able to turn into a seven points on its subsequent drive. Yet the quarterback still managed to get into a second-half rhythm, including this pretty 43-yard corner-post touchdown pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel:
That was the play that helped solidify the win, increasing San Francisco’s lead 17-7 after Lance connected with running back Elijah Mitchell on a third-quarter touchdown pass earlier.
Overall, Lance’s line was 16-of-23 for 249 yards, two touchdowns against one interception with a 116.0 passer rating while also rushing for 31 yards on eight carries.
As far as the eye test? The rawness was still there, but it’s impossible to not notice the sheer athletic playmaking abilities Lance possesses.
Elijah Mitchell sets a new 49ers franchise record for rookies
Lance’s life was made that much easier by Mitchell, who returned from a three-game absence because of concussion and knee injuries.
Thankfully, Mitchell was an X-factor in his own right, churning out 119 yards on 21 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per attempt.
While that was cool enough, Mitchell was honing in on a franchise record for most rushing yards by a rookie, previously held by running back Vic Washington and set back in 1971. Mitchell entered the game with 759 yards and finished Week 17 with 878.
He’s now the leading rookie rusher in 49ers history.
The Niners will celebrate that, sure. But they’re more concerned with what they can do to ensure a playoff berth, made that much easier by beating Houston and improving to 9-7 on the season.
With one more regular-season game in the works against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18.