San Francisco Chronicle

Scott Ostler: Coach Kyle Shanahan walked the walk by using both quarterbac­ks early.

Now that games count, Shanahan shows he’s glad to buck convention

- SCOTT OSTLER

Kyle Shanahan may have arrived as a genuine difference-making NFL coach early in the first quarter Sunday in Detroit.

That’s when we found out that Shanahan is not afraid to veer the family sedan off-road. Buckle up the kids and hold on to the dog.

The 49ers had 1st-and-10 at the Lions’ 16-yard line, scoreless game, when Shanahan made a substituti­on: Jimmy Garoppolo out, Trey Lance in. The rookie quarterbac­k ran for 1 yard, hohum, but it might have been the start of some

thing big.

Garoppolo came back in for two plays, then Lance trotted back onto the field at 1st-andgoal at the 5 and, for his first NFL pass, threw a nice TD completion to Trent Sherfield. The 49ers’ future had arrived. The official passing of the 49ers’ quarterbac­k torch is still somewhere down the road, maybe halfway through the season. Everyone knows that’s coming.

What everyone did not know was how Shanahan would handle his unusual QB situation once the real games started and his job and reputation were on the line.

Sure, Shanahan had fun with his quarterbac­ks in preseason, mixing and matching. But that was meaningles­s. Would Shanahan have the stuff to take his crazy two-quarterbac­k system into the real season? Or, with a win over the Lions an absolute must, would he open conservati­vely? Shanahan had an out — Lance missing several days of practice with a chipped bone in a finger.

Shanahan had already showed he wasn’t afraid to buck convention — and his own history of favoring convention­alstyle quarterbac­ks — when he helped orchestrat­e the drafting of Lance.

But Sunday, Shanahan had to walk the walk. Using Lance on that first true drive (the first possession ended on a first-play fumble by Garoppolo) in a key situation sent a signal to the rest of the league, and to Shanahan’s critics ... and to the 49ers themselves.

Shanahan isn’t waffling. He’s French-toasting, with whipped cream.

Some other observatio­ns from Opening Day ...

⏩ This two-headed quarterbac­k thing could be more than just a temporary arrangemen­t until Lance takes over. No defensive coordinato­r in the league wants the headache of game-planning for JimmyTrey.

⏩ “There’s no NFL player with more pressure on him” than Garoppolo, said one of the pregame network talking heads. But what if the two-QB system, rather than putting pressure on both guys, actually takes some pressure off both of them? Neither has to carry the team, and it’s possible they will complement one another beautifull­y.

⏩ Reality check: It was the Lions.

⏩ The 49ers sent out captains Jimmie Ward, Raheem Mostert and Fred Warner for the coin toss. What, no Brandon Belt?

⏩ Was Garoppolo auditionin­g for the Lions’ quarterbac­k job next year? They have a couple of extra first-round picks they could offer.

⏩ If Jason Verrett is as seriously hurt as the team fears, the 49ers should boycott all future turffield games. Remember last season’s carnage against the Jets at the Meadlowlan­ds? Seriously, NFL? Grass is legal, you know.

⏩ The Lions gashed the 49ers’ defense for 105 yards rushing in the first half, 15 plays at 7 yards per carry. That’s a defense featuring certified stars Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Fred Warner. Who’s on the spot now: DeMeco Ryans, rookie defensive coordinato­r. Meanwhile, rookie head coach Robert Saleh’s Jets lost to Carolina 19-14.

⏩ The Lions are a terrible team on paper, and based on consistent suckitude in past seasons. But they had a wild card giving the team and its fans new hope: new head coach Dan Campbell, already a folk hero in Detroit. Could the Lions find magic in a guy who combines Tommy Lasorda and Mike Ditka? That fourth-quarter rally said maybe, but as Shanahan will tell you, you gotta have players.

⏩ How many pages are there on that flip chart the 49ers’ quarterbac­ks wear on their left wrists? It looks like they’re getting ready to order off the TGI Fridays menu.

⏩ Lance wears a gold chain around his neck. Did he check to find out for sure that Aqib Talib is retired?

⏩ Reading the thought balloons over the Lance’s head at different junctures in the game. “This isn’t so hard.” And, “This isn’t so easy.” It’s called education.

⏩ A Day 1 award for the 49ers: Worst First Play, the fumbled exchange between center Alex Mack and Garoppolo. You gotta feel sorry for Mack. Fine player, a key to the 49ers’ success this season, yet you will not read his name in any sentence that doesn’t also include “butt sweat.”

⏩ It’s going to be a close race this season for the 49ers’ MVP on offense — George Kittle the receiver, or George Kittle the blocker. What is this guy so angry about?

⏩ On Elijah Mitchell’s 38-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Kittle erased two Lions.

⏩ That run, by the way, was through the right side, home of the pumped-up Mike McGlinchey.

⏩ Pregame observatio­n: Jimmy Johnson’s hair is in midseason form. And, is that the same Randy Moss who cave-manned the media throughout his career? Some see it as charm, I call it smarm..

 ?? Gregory Shamus / Getty Images ?? Quarterbac­k Jimmy Garoppolo congratula­tes JaMycal Hasty after the running back’s 3-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter gave the 49ers a 21-10 lead.
Gregory Shamus / Getty Images Quarterbac­k Jimmy Garoppolo congratula­tes JaMycal Hasty after the running back’s 3-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter gave the 49ers a 21-10 lead.
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