Shanahan: Playing Trey Lance would mean the 49ers are giving up on the season

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Kyle Shanahan on Monday, hours after the 49ers dropped their fourth straight game, announced Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to remain the team’s starting quarterback this week against the Chicago Bears.

He also indicated handing over the keys to rookie Trey Lance would be a form of “giving up” on the season.

“I get all the questions,” Shanahan said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “But it’s way too early to start thinking about just getting guys experience and giving up the year that way. I’m trying to do what’s best for our team — and also what’s best for those players. Not just Trey but other guys. Getting experience just to get it isn’t always beneficial.”

That is one of the most telling statements Shanahan has made about the quarterback situation this year. He implied he was unlikely to make Lance the starter over a healthy Garoppolo just to get him experience until the 49ers were to be eliminated from postseason contention.

“When you’re playing people just to get them experience, you start to do that when you’re completely eliminated from playoffs,” he said. “If you’re doing it for other reasons, then you do that when you feel a person’s ready. Our record’s 2-4 and we lost four in a row, so I get why I’m getting questions like that, but we’re 2-4. You get two games in a row and you’re right back to .500 and you got a chance.”

It comes on the heels of another uninspiring performance from Garoppolo on Sunday night in which he turned the ball over three times while running an offense that netted just two first downs over seven scoreless possessions in the middle of the game. Shanahan’s offense went 1-of-11 on third down.

Indianapolis won, 30-18, on the back of San Francisco’s poor offensive showing and the 49ers’ defense giving up big plays and three long pass interference penalties leading to Colts touchdowns.

“We didn’t go into that game thinking that Jimmy was one bad game away from losing his job or anything like that,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy didn’t play as good as he could, which he knows that. I know that. ... We know Trey is the future here and we’re trying to get do what’s best for him and for our team.”

The 49ers are 5-6 in Garoppolo’s last 11 starts dating back to last season since the Super Bowl. He returned Sunday night from a calf injury he suffered Oct. 3 against the Seahawks. He leads the NFL in committing turnover worthy plays on 6.1% of his drop backs, according to Pro Football Focus. The scouting service also says Garoppolo has 156 yards on throws going 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage, ranking 32nd among quarterbacks responsible for at least 20% of their team’s passes.

Lance is also coming off an injury. He was unavailable at practice last week because of a left knee sprain suffered before the bye in his first career start in Arizona Oct. 10. Shanahan said he’s “on pace” to return to practice Wednesday, but would likely do so in limited fashion. So it would seem unlikely Lance would be ready to replace Garoppolo in Chicago, anyway.

But Shanahan’s words speak to a broader point about the rest of the season beyond the Bears game.

He clearly doesn’t have faith in the quarterback he invested three first-round picks to draft last spring. And he remains staunch in his unwillingness to give Lance more reps during practice because those will go to the starting quarterback in order to get ready for the upcoming game.

Shanahan on Monday was asked if he thought about giving Lance more practice time once his knee is healed.

“I haven’t decided that yet. I got to see where he is,” he said. “But odds are, when it comes to the game plan and stuff, and what we’re doing, you’re not just going to start rotating quarterbacks because it’s not an open competition right now.”

Shanahan has avoided the “open competition” label since training camp began. But that appears to be window dressing for the fact he doesn’t believe Lance is ready. There won’t be opportunities for Lance to get on the practice field until Shanahan changes his mind or Garoppolo gets hurt.

Which is different than how Shanahan has handled other situations.

He’s been willing to play Trent Sherfield over former first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, and even promote Travis Benjamin from the practice squad to eat into Aiyuk’s snap count, which happened in Arizona. Rookie Talanoa Hufanga was given snaps Sunday night in place of Jaquiski Tartt even before Tartt left with a knee injury.

Aiyuk, to be sure, is having a miserable season. But so is Garoppolo, however not to the point where Shanahan would be willing to give Lance an opportunity to become the starter while the offense has toiled in mediocrity to begin the campaign.

Still, with the offense entering Week 8 ranked 20th in points, 18th in yards and 30th on third down, Shanahan has optimism his team can rebound from its four-game slide with 11 games remaining. At 2-4, the 49ers are in last place in the NFC West and 12th in conference standings for the postseason (seven teams make it, including three wild cards).

“You get two games in a row and you’re right back to .500 and you got a chance,” Shanahan said. “(I remember) 10 years ago, I was on a bye week at 3-6 and it felt like the world was falling apart and we were in last place in the division, and we finished the year 10-6 and ended up winning the division and going to the playoffs.”

Shanahan was talking about the 2012 Washington team in which he was the offensive coordinator. That team won its final seven games and took home the NFC East crown.

That teamed was quarterbacked by rookie Robert Griffin III. Going with a first-year signal-caller that year was not “giving up” on the season that year.

Then again, that team didn’t have Jimmy Garoppolo.

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