The TV camera angle didn’t do the throw justice, and it looked pretty cool on TV.
Trey Lance, the 49ers’ first-year starting quarterback, took the second-down, second-quarter snap, faked a handoff to running back Elijah Mitchell, and feigned another to sweeping wide receiver Deebo Samuel, planted his back foot, bounced in place, and ripped a 30-yard throw over two Bears defenders, directly into the chest of his teammate Ray-Ray McCloud, who was cutting across the field, right to left.
It was the kind of throw we have not seen a 49ers quarterback make since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach — the perfect combination of power and touch.
And while Lance’s throw to McCloud wasn’t the best throw of this NFL weekend, the company he kept in that competition — Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert — showed the young quarterback’s incredible potential.
This kid has a chance to be special.
If only all of Lance’s throws were like that on Sunday.
Lance’s performance against the Bears was the perfect encapsulation of what we should expect from the quarterback the Niners still consider a rookie.
Up and down. Good and bad. Feast and famine.
Lance can make throws that will pull you out of your seat.
He can follow that with a throw that will make you cover your face.
This isn’t a unique place for young quarterbacks to find themselves. This is pretty normal.
But the 49ers’ circumstances are anything but normal. Lance is taking over a team that was a quarter away from the Super Bowl last season, with the quarterback of that team still on the roster.
No pressure, kid, just be good enough to take this team over the top of an already steep mountain.
The 49ers have handed Lance the starting job because they (rightfully) believe he has the talent to do it.
He could lose the starting job (in a few months) if he doesn’t put it all together soon enough.
The truth is that there is no perfect calibration between good and bad for Lance. That’s because perfection is the goal of any quarterback, and that can never truly be reached.
But it’s hard to make the case that Lance had more good than bad in Sunday’s season opener, even when the good popped off the screen.
In addition to the impressive throw to McCloud, Lance had top-flight throws to tight end Ross Dwelley, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings. No deference to inexperience was needed — they were big-time tosses.
But you might want to apply that deference for Lance’s misses. There was a throw behind Jennings, a missed touchdown to Tyler Kroft, and a game-losing interception that cannot be sugar-coated.
Blame the offensive line or the downpour that drenched the fourth quarter, but before that fourth-quarter interception, Lance was 9-for-16. He completed only one of every four throws he made after that (4-of-12).
Now, Lance, to his credit, put the loss on his shoulders after the game. His maturity is one of the reasons the Niners are betting on him.
And the young quarterback also was solid in the run game Sunday. That’s an underrated factor considering the weather, even if he showed the propensity to tuck-and-run too quickly, as he did in his two spot starts last year.
It was a Rorschach test of a game — the kind of game Garoppolo had countless times during his tenure as the 49ers starter. It lives in the subjective realm.
How do you calibrate the good against the bad?
With Garoppolo, the good wasn’t big-time throws, but instead, a copious number of solid tosses over the middle, countered by jaw-dropping mistakes.
With Lance, it’s dabbling in the spectacular with clear-cut reminders of his inexperience along the way.
The good news for Lance is that he is just beginning his journey as an NFL quarterback. Garoppolo consistently showed that he had reached his potential in San Francisco. That’s a big reason why he’s still on the team and why a quarterback change is ridiculous to consider after just one game.
But the growing pains for Lance are real, and while they were expected, on Sunday, the team didn’t play well enough to insulate themselves from those mistakes. The scoreboard told the truth.
Moving forward, the Niners need more from everyone, including Lance. But with quarterback being the most important position on the field, you — yes, you — have to answer the same question the 49ers’ brass has been asking since the moment the game ended. It’s the same question the team has asked for the last five years:
If the rest of the team doesn’t play something close to a perfect game, can the Niners win with an imperfect quarterback?