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Would the 49ers Have Reached the NFC Championship With Trey Lance Starting?

The 49ers are back in the NFC Championship with Jimmy Garoppolo, but would it still have been possible with Trey Lance?

The 49ers are back in the NFC Championship.

Only two years removed from their last appearance, the 49ers are looking to replicate the winning result the last time they were in it.

Getting to the conference title game was not easy for the 49ers. In fact, there were several times they appeared dead in the water. Yet, they never wavered and pushed on to reach this point. And they did it all with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback. A player who is essentially a dead man walking in San Francisco.

At the beginning of the season, the starting quarterback role was a top discussion, especially once Garoppolo injured his calf against the Seahawks in Week 4. Trey Lance got the start against the Cardinals in Week 5 and it looked like the 49ers would be better off giving Lance starting duties the rest of the way. 

However, Kyle Shanahan stood firm with Garoppolo as he has all year long and is clearly justified in his reasoning with the 49ers one game away from a Super Bowl trip. But what if the 49ers actually did make a switch at quarterback?

Would the 49ers have reached the NFC Championship with Lance as the starter?

Yes and no.

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Look, I believe that had Lance started the first game of the season, or even started the rest of the way from Week 5, that he would've been in good shape. He would've been on the level, if not better, than Garoppolo is now. If there is anything Lance has shown in his limited starts, it is that he gets better as the game goes on. 

The same probably would've been true as the season went on with him as the starter. But Shanahan doesn't look at it long-term with rookies. He has tunnel vision and short-sightedness in this area. What he sees with Lance is not what he can become this season, but what he is right now at this current state compared to Garoppolo. Doing that will obviously make Garoppolo the better choice, hence why Shanahan never entertained a switch.

Where Shanahan DID entertain a switch is when the 49ers were 3-5. And this is where I say the 49ers would not have reached the NFC Championship with Lance as the starter. Shanahan cited on a conference call with reporters Monday that Lance was only taking over had the season continued to slide when the Niners were at 3-5.

"But when we did have a 3-5 record, I knew we were not one game away, but it was getting close to where the best thing for the team was focusing on some other things and maybe getting some guys some chances to play, but I never felt that at 3-5," said Shanahan. 

"But you could see that the games were going to come if we didn't turn this around fast. And I felt the first time we did that was that game versus the Rams and since then I haven't had that thought because that got us on a pretty good roll after that. And we've never been in that situation since, where you see that nearing.”

So there is no way Lance would have been here because Shanahan was never considering him until the season was lost. And for a time, it looked like the season was lost by Week 11 or 12 had they continue to lose. 

Now, Lance did look like he was going to take over once Garoppolo tore a ligament and fractured his throwing thumb. Had that happened, I am not too sure the 49ers would still have gone as far. Starting Lance, for me, was to kickstart him early so that he would battle tested by late season. That way the 49ers would feel more confident and comfortable with him during a playoff run.

Maybe next season.