First-game jitters are to be expected on the opening day of a new season, but no one suffered more so on the day than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Detroit Lions began the game with the ball on offense and drove 39 yards into SF territory before turning it over on downs.
On the Niners' first play of the 2021-2022 season, Garoppolo mishandled the snap from C Alex Mack and turned it over to the Lions at the 49ers’ 36 yard line.
Despite being deep in their own territory, another defensive stop forced Detroit into a missed field goal, and a more confident Garoppolo would take his team 54 yards downfield to the Detroit five-yard line before rookie QB Trey Lance made his NFL debut, throwing a touchdown to WR Trent Sherfield on his first ever passing attempt.
“I had no idea when or if I was going to play,” said Trey Lance in his postgame media interview. “Obviously I was hoping that I would get to get on the field and just help [my team], but at the same time my role is just to be ready whenever my name is called.”
As was showcased a bit in the preseason and expected heading into Sunday’s matchup in Motor City, Lance entered the game in specific situations where his ability to gash opposing defenses on the ground was especially advantageous. While it’s hard to count his two total rushing yards on three attempts as an outright success, head coach Kyle Shanahan said the team will remain consistent in trying it when he deems the time is right.
“We’ll always have some stuff in for Trey,” Shanahan told the media after the game. “When your number two quarterback has a skillset that the number one doesn’t do, in terms of being a threat to run, there’s always an option of different plays you can run.”
“We’ll have that up at all times while Trey’s here,” he continued. “While he’s the number two, that will always be an option.”
49ers RB Raheem Mostert logged just four snaps before chipping cartilage in his knee, an injury that will keep him out for the next eight weeks. Rookie RB Elijah Mitchell shined in Mostert’s absence, taking his third-ever NFL carry 38 yards for a touchdown on his way to 104 total yards on 19 rushing attempts on the day.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lance’s TD pass and Mitchell’s rushing TD made the 49ers duo the first rookies to register at least one TD pass and one rushing TD in their NFL debut since The Washington Football Team accomplished the feat in 2012 with QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris .
After another impressive drive by Garoppolo led to a 3-yard running score by RB JaMycal Hasty, 49ers LB Dre Greenlaw waved goodbye to Detroit’s QB Jared Goff as he took an interception 39 yards to the house.
Dre Greenlaw really waved at Jared Goff on the pick 6 🤣— Overtime (@overtime) September 12, 2021
The 49ers headed into the locker room up 31-10 at the break, and the game was beginning to look out of reach for the Lions.
On their second drive of the second half, WR Deebo Samuel completed a 79-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to put the 49ers up 38-10, seemingly putting the game out of reach. Samuel finished the day with a monstrous 189 yards on 9 targets and one TD.
Despite being up 41-17 with less than two minutes to play in the contest, fumbles by TE George Kittle and then Samuel opened the game back up for a potential comeback, and the Lions put up 16 points in the final moments of the game before San Francisco’s defense was finally able to shut the door with 20 seconds remaining.
It really seems the off-season competition with rookie Trey Lance has pushed the starting QB to evolve. Aside from the fumble on the first play of the game, Garoppolo was phenomenal Sunday, avoiding any costly mistakes while throwing for 314 yards and one TD on 17-of-25 attempts, earning himself a passer rating of 124.2
Due to his own injury history and inability to remain on the field for an entire season, Garoppolo has taken a lot of flak from fans on social media over the years for presumably lacking toughness. However the 8th-year QB sat in the pocket and took some hits on the day, none bigger than the 79-yard bomb to Deebo Samuel in the third quarter.
This 79-yard pass to Deebo Samuel is the longest of Jimmy Garoppolo's career and the longest passing TD by a 49er since 2018.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 12, 2021
🎥 @49ers | H/T @ESPNStatsInfo pic.twitter.com/oquwO9dKzB
“It felt good to get out there,” Garoppolo told the media in his post game interview, struggling to contain his smile. “Obviously not the way we wanted to finish it, but we were rolling as an offense for a little bit there, we got into a pretty good groove. Kyle was calling the plays, he was on fire, and we were rolling pretty good.”
Nick Bosa returned to football after 357 days away from the sport with a torn ACL and cartilage damage and powered a defense that will feature as one of the best in the NFL this season. Bosa had four tackles, three of which were for loss, two quarterback hits, and his first sack since December 15, 2019.
“It’s always good to be back on the field and with the team and back in the routine,” Bosa told reporters after the game. “I love this team so it’s always an honor to play with them.”
The 49ers CB Jason Verrett was another notable injury on the day, as he suffered his own torn ACL and will be out the rest of the season. Fans who were expecting second-year standout WR Brandon Aiyuk to have a larger role yesterday would have been surprised to see him finish the game without a target. Shanahan attested the decrease in snaps for Aiyuk to a nagging injury that kept him out of training leading up to Sunday’s game, and also gave credit to WR Trent Sherfield who he said has earned his spot and stepped up when given the opportunity yesterday.
The 49ers continue their season with the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday at 10 a.m. PT.
Top Image: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images