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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 5 Takeaways from Week 17

The Week 17 win leaves us with the question, "Garoppolo or Lance?"

The San Francisco 49ers won their sixth game against a team under .500 this season, this time by thrashing the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium. Here are the five takeaways from the 23-7 victory.

Trey Lance is here to stay.

Lance did not arrive at the game in ideal condition. The 49ers kept his development in the hands of the scout team for a large portion of the season. Only injuries to starting quarterback Garoppolo provided opportunities for Lance to play. The first half was alarming to the crowd, who were excited to witness their franchise quarterback.

The mundane first half included an ugly interception, too many quarterback runs and missed wide-open receivers. You would expect these rookie mistakes from someone starting his second career game. The crowd grew restless, and forgot that their eight-year veteran makes similar mistakes weekly.

Lance ultimately got his confidence booster shot during halftime and displayed explosiveness to add to the 49ers offense. He was much quicker in his decision-making and used the freedom Kyle Shanahan gave him to rip apart the Texans' hopes of an upset victory.

How long can the 49ers afford DeMeco Ryans?

Trey Lance did his part with stepping up to the challenge, but the 49ers defense kept the Texans at bay. Every time the Texans threatened to break loose, the defense came up with big plays that allowed a single touchdown and a missed field goal. The Texans offense scored 34 points (plus a pick 6) against the Los Angeles Chargers, raising eyebrows whether teams undervalued Davis Mills.

Mills tried to exploit the weaker 49ers cornerbacks, which resulted in multiple pass interference penalties. The defense adjusted quickly to the threat by rushing the Texans quarterback. 

The 49ers have not given more than 31 points this season. After the 37 second meltdown against the Green Bay Packers, many doubted DeMeco Ryans' competency for the job. As the year progressed, Ryans showed a tremendous amount of success that exceeded expectations. With NFL teams on the hunt for good head coaches consistently, the 49ers will not be able to hold him too long in Santa Clara.

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The quarterback saga

The argument made in favor of starting Trey Lance assumed the 49ers are not a Super Bowl contender this year. It made sense for the team to start Lance immediately with the hope of using 2023-2024 as the Super Bowl window with the rookie contract. The team went ahead with a different philosophy: win now with Garoppolo.

Lance did not justify the position as the starter by outplaying Garoppolo when the opportunity was given. For the first time as a 49er, Lance decided to take the shackles off in front of the home crowd on Sunday.

The 49ers require a win over the Rams, or luck must go their way to make the playoffs. That complicates the situation as Garopoolo might still be the best option to win since developing Lance is a project too late to embark on.

The defense laid the foundation.

The Texans had 437 yards of offense against the Chargers the week before, while the 49ers defense held Houston to 222 yards. In a single drive, the 49ers gave away 56 yards in successive plays with pass interference penalties. It's remarkable how the defensive line offset the weakness of Josh Norman in pass defense.

Mills targeted Brandin Cooks at every opportunity but was masterfully disrupted by the defense, which held the Texans to a mere 7 points at halftime, which enabled Lance to come back.

No icing on the cake?

The 49ers recorded their second winning season in five years under Shanahan. Wins by the Eagles and Saints left the 49ers waiting one more week to figure out their fate for the season. The positive is that the 49ers will clinch a playoff birth if they beat the LA Rams.

The 49ers would feel that they made a huge mistake not developing Lance if they lose Week 18 and miss the playoffs.