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Trey Lance's season-ending injury has 49ers turning back to Jimmy Garoppolo

The former North Dakota State quarterback injured his right ankle against Seattle on Sunday and it will require surgery that ends his season and puts Garoppolo back under center as San Francisco's starting QB.

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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan (left) checks on San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance (5) after he was injured against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of a Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Nhat V. Meyer/TNS
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — SANTA CLARA — The stunning sequence of events came fast: Trey Lance runs, gets crushed, retreats to the ground, is put on a cart with his right ankle in an air cast, and off he goes to Monday’s season-ending surgery.

“It was horrible, to see him make a play, run and not get up,” said Brock Purdy, a rookie quarterback who now becomes Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup.

“I was all, ‘Hey, come on, dude, get up, you’re fine, you’ve done this before,’ ” Purdy continued. “(Lance) was still on the ground and I was, ‘Oh my gosh.’ All of us are heartbroken. To see him in the training room and on the table, that’s what sucks about this sport, to see a close friend and teammate go down, but it’s part of the game.”

The 49ers’ would be in dire straits had they not, three weeks ago, made a last-ditch appeal for Garoppolo to rework his contract (at a pay cut, with incentives now reachable). A lot could still go wrong with 15 games to go. Garoppolo, of course, could get hurt, too.

So, yes, there’s been a quarterback change at 4949 Marie P DeBartolo Way. Yes, No. 10 is back in charge of the offense. Yes, the 1-1 49ers are back on course to challenge in the NFC for a third time in four seasons.

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San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance (5) lays on the field after being injured against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of a Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Nhat V. Meyer/TNS

It was a lose-win afternoon for the 49ers, who won their home opener 27-7 over Seattle.

Lance got hurt on his 15th snap Sunday, after a 68-snap opener in Chicago, after 178 snaps his rookie year, after playing just one game his final season at North Dakota State. Simply put, the experience Lance needs will have to wait, yet again.

“It’s unfortunate for him. We’re really hurting for him. We really wanted to see him this year,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. ” To have that bad of an injury, I feel for him. But if anyone can do it it’s him.”

The small sample size of plays this season will lead to more snap judgments about his future, his elongated throwing motion, his visual discipline, and, most of all because of his injury, his perilous rushing style.

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Lance did not slide on any of his 16 carries this season, and he claimed his preseason-opener slide was the first of his football career. Flashback to Wednesday’s quote from him: “When I’m running between the tackles or running on third down, I’m not ever going to slide and go fourth-and-two and just give up on the play and send our defense on the field if it’s a situation like that.” Lance’s last carry Sunday – and perhaps this season – came with him running up the right side (between tackles) on a second-and-8 run to the Seahawks’ 19-yard line.

Garoppolo tested out his surgically repaired right shoulder by, at least initially, flinging footballs like he was on an Arlington Heights playground. The arm seemed, might we say, stronger, such as a 12-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk toward the sideline and a 38-yard shot on target to Ross Dwelley for a touchdown.

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San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance (5) is helped off the field after being injured against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of a Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Nhat V. Meyer/TNS

“It felt like (2017), where it was just go throw, make plays,” Garoppolo said. “That’s what I like to do. That’s different from what we usually do around here but sometimes you have to do that.”

While he noted the ball is “spinning right” and his shoulder feels good, the offense isn’t predicated on arm strength so much as accuracy and knowledge, which he showed with a 15-yard, third-down conversion pass to Deebo Samuel to essentially clinch this win with 6 minutes to go.

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Garoppolo’s knack for converting on quarterback sneaks is uncanny, by the way, and it paid off with him scoring on a fourth-and-1 dive with 1:51 remaining. Why risk injury? “Wasn’t my call, man. I just run the plays,” he replied.

Nobody bonded more with Lance this offseason and camp than Brandon Aiyuk, who said of seeing his friend get hurt: “It hurts, for sure. It’s tough. It’s the type of game we play.”

That was a common refrain throughout the locker room.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) hands off to running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (22) against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter of a Sunday, Sept. 18 game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey: “It’s haunting and disturbing that you just have to continue to play a game after things happen like that to people you love and care about. But our job is to continue to play football. We did a good job of that and settled in. Praying for Trey and hoping for the best.”

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead: “We all went in there (to the training room at halftime) to see Trey, see how he was doing, tell him we were thinking about him. A bunch of us went in there and saw him. (He was) probably how he should be. Football is a tough sport and injuries are part of it.”

Bay Area News Group — Mercurynews.com — is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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