Trey Lance’s heartbreaking injury and the quarterback the 49ers just can’t quit | San Francisco 49ers

There’s an old saying in NFL circles: “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none.” Well, tell that to the San Francisco 49ers, who have learned the value of keeping two qualified starters. While the 49ers were criticized for handing backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a guaranteed one-year deal in the offseason rather than trading him for whatever they could get, the move may have saved their season after Trey Lance went down with a broken ankle on Sunday.

The extent of Lance’s injury was not known when the team put Garoppolo – previously labeled “the world’s most expensive backup” by some of the snarkier members of the media – on the field against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter. As per usual, it was an efficient but not flashy performance from Garoppolo, who had both a passing and rushing touchdown while throwing for 154 yards without a single pick. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 27-7, notching their first win of the season while handing Seattle their first loss.

It turns out they will be forced to rely on Garoppolo – who was practicing on his own for much of the offseason – for the long run. Immediately after the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan announced that Lance’s broken ankle requires season-ending surgery. It was heartbreaking news for a 22-year-old with so much talent to offer fans. Suddenly, Garoppolo, who looked like he was going to spend his season sitting on the bench for a team that clearly wanted to move on from him, is once again leading the team that he took the NFC Championship Game last season.

Oh, and about that “most expensive backup” designation? Should Garoppolo stay healthy, he will be a bargain. Yes, his contract guarantees him $6.5m, but in restructuring his contract the 49ers have almost certainly saved themselves money. While he could earn $12.65m should he start the entire year, that’s a long way from the $24.2m he would have been owed under his old deal.

Trey Lance is helped onto a cart after what turned out to be a season-ending injury
Trey Lance is helped onto a cart after what turned out to be a season-ending injury. Photograph: Josie Lepe/AP

It’s not an ideal situation for San Francisco, who were hoping to develop their top pick in the 2021 draft, but Garoppolo’s presence prevents Lance’s broken ankle from being a devastating blow. It turns out that in a league where starting-caliber quarterbacks are the most valuable commodity a team can have, it isn’t necessarily foolish to keep two on hand.

Let’s be honest though: this was not San Francisco’s Plan A. If another team were willing to overpay for Garoppolo during the offseason, he would be that franchise’s starter right now. Goodness knows there are teams that he would have made better (he would have likely found a home in a league that doesn’t tacitly encourage tanking). Still, instead of treating him like a surplus commodity, the team valued his skills, and his many years playing within their system, over what was being offered.

So, the 49ers decided to be conservative, took their fair share of criticism and now have apparently been rewarded (albeit in the cruelest manner possible). What’s the moral here? Well, let’s turn to a sports cliché that is actually applicable in this situation: sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make.

MVP of the week

Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson greet each other after an extraordinary game in Miami
Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson greet each other after an extraordinary game in Miami. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami Dolphins. For most of the Baltimore Ravens’ game against the Miami Dolphins, it looked like this was Lamar Jackson’s award to lose. Unfortunately for him, Tagovailoa (with an assist from the Ravens’ porous defense) had different plans as Miami managed to overcome a 21-point deficit and pull off a shocking 42-38 victory to improve their record to 2-0.

The story in Baltimore should have been Jackson continuing to bet on himself and winning: he threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another, putting together a combined 437 yards. It still wasn’t enough because Tagovailoa was just that much better: he threw for 469 yards and a whopping six touchdowns. It turns out that if you can do that, you don’t really need to make things happen with your legs. Right now the best quarterback in Florida may not be the one the Dolphins were reportedly eyeing in the offseason.

Stat of the week

Six. That’s the number of times Joe Burrow was sacked during the Bengals’ 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. While Burrow has emerged as one of the most dangerous QBs in the league, the one knock on his game has been his propensity for taking sacks. Last season, much of the blame was placed on Cincinnati’s iffy offensive line but the team had supposedly spent the offseason working to fix it.

The results? Worse than inconclusive. So far, Burrow has been sacked 12 times in two games, a huge reason why last season’s Super Bowl runners-up have started this campaign with a 0-2 record.

Video of the week

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 20-10 on Sunday, but the biggest play had little to do with football. In what was a typically chippy game between the two teams, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans were ejected during a benches-clearing brawl.

Lattimore probably had a right to be irritated about being ejected given that he was shoved by Evans, but the referees were no doubt influenced by the history between the two players. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was also visibly unhappy, at one point slamming his tablet in frustration. Perhaps his heart is elsewhere.

Quote of the week

“That shit was embarrassing. We got our ass whooped” – Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner after his team’s 24-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It’s difficult to argue with Buckner. In fact, the Colts’ futility in Jacksonville is downright historic. The last time they won in Jacksonville was 2014, which is astounding considering that the Jaguars have mostly been mediocre-to-bad during that stretch. Despite making an upgrade at quarterback by trading for veteran Matt Ryan during the offseason, the Colts have started their season 0-2. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have won their first game of the season with just their third shutout in the last 15 years. No points for guessing which team they beat on both occasions.

Elsewhere around the league

— It was looking like another bad Sunday for the New York Jets, who were down 30-17 to the Cleveland Browns with less than two minutes to go. At one point, Cleveland’s chance of winning was projected at 99.9%. However, after an elite Joe Flacco touchdown pass, punter Braden Mann pulled off a successful onside kick that was swiftly converted into a game-winning touchdown for New York. The Jets beat the Browns 31-30 thanks partly to Mann putting the foot back into football.

Somehow, it was not even Mann’s most impressive play of the game. New York wouldn’t have even been in a position to come back if Mann hadn’t kept a first-quarter drive alive with his arm, converting a fake punt on fourth-and-one that eventually set up the first of Flacco’s four touchdowns passes.

— The much-hyped Arizona Cardinals barely escaped from falling into the same 0-2 hole as the Bengals. Fans had reason to worry about quarterback Kyler Murray – who signed a five-year, $230.5m contract in the offseason – after his team fell into a 20-0 halftime deficit against the Las Vegas Raiders, who were also seeking their first win of the season. Improbably, Murray managed force overtime with the aid of the most absurd two-point conversion the league has seen in years.

After tying things up in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals won the game in overtime on a fumble recovery. You know, just how they drew things up. It was a potentially season-saving win for Arizona. The Raiders fell to 0-2 in a very brutal fashion, but that’s OK, it was still a pretty special day for Las Vegas sports.

— New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston was playing with four fractures in his back, which partly explained a brutal three-interception, six-sack day. It also leads one to question whether the Saints should have gone with veteran backup Andy Dalton rather than press their injured starter into duty.

— In a game that would have had a lot more buzz a few seasons ago when Brady was in New England and Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t retired, the Patriots captured their first win of the season in a turnover- and penalty-filled mess against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 17-14 road victory at least prevented the Pats from falling into an 0-2 hole for the first time in 20 years. Both teams are now 1-1 and neither look postseason-bound at the moment.

— In Defensive Rookie of the Year news, Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson had three first-half sacks for the Detroit Lions on Sunday, helping give his team a 22-0 halftime lead over the Washington Commanders. To Washington’s credit, Carson Wentz had a three-touchdown second half to keep this one from being a total laugher, with the Lions finally hanging on to win 36-27.

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