SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- To say that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer needed to take a big step forward in last week's game against the Los Angeles Rams would qualify as a major understatement.
With fans already calling for Niners coach Kyle Shanahan to make the change to rookie C.J. Beathard after Hoyer struggled mightily in the first two weeks, it was imperative for Hoyer to at least show signs of progress in game three. That's not to say another rough outing would have landed him on the bench but the calls for his job would have certainly gotten louder.
In fact, the decibel level rose dramatically just one play into this past Thursday night's loss to the Rams when Hoyer threw an interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown to open the game.
“It was a tough way to start, the situation we were in, especially after [last Sunday] versus Seattle," Shanahan said. "I knew it was going to be tough. We wanted to come out here and play well. To start out with the first play as a pick, basically a pick-six, I think they took it to the 2. I knew that was going to be tough, so I just went up and talked to him, looked in his eyes, he looked fine. He said, ‘I’m ready to go. I’ll be alright.’ He responded pretty well the next drive.”
Hoyer actually responded pretty well the rest of the game, posting what was easily the best performance in his three starts as a Niner. He finished 23-of-37 for 332 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 98.0 and those numbers could have been much better had his intended receivers not accounted for five drops. He stood firm in the pocket despite constant pressure and also added a 9-yard rushing touchdown.
On the heels of his woeful game against Seattle, Hoyer made it clear that he and the Niners' offense weren't going to panic. After all, Hoyer has been in the league since 2009 with seven teams. In that time, there's not much he hasn't seen.
So it is that Hoyer also knows that you can't get too low after a bad performance just as you can't get too high after a good outing. Which is why Hoyer didn't want to spend much time focusing on the offense's step forward after the game, especially in a losing effort.
“We should’ve scored more," Hoyer said. "You’d like to score more touchdowns when you get in the red area. But, that was just the way it was going. We knew we had to score touchdowns. We saw that was how the game was being played. When that’s the case, obviously you always want to score points when it’s a close game and it’s nine to six or whatever it was. You know that’s the kind of game that’s being played. When you go out there and you know that you’re going to have to score 41 just to tie it up, then that’s what you have to do.”
One of the points of emphasis for Hoyer and the offense moving forward will be attempting to erase the early mistake that has forced them to have to bounce back. In each of the first three games, Hoyer has thrown an interception. The first two came when Hoyer didn't see a linebacker dropping into coverage and threw the ball right to them. The third looked to be similar, though Hoyer said Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman just guessed right on a play the Niners hoped would be open with the corner respecting receiver Marquise Goodwin's speed.
"The corner played it great," Shanahan said. "He squatted all over it. And all Brian could do there is, the only play he can do is throw it away. He just left it inside, still tried to get the pass and that was the only mistake he made, and I did not like the call because it wasn't open. I just wish he threw it away. He didn't, and that's what the result was. But, I was very, you know, I was very excited how everyone responded to that and it was cool watching our team after that. You know, they went and scored right away. But, I could see our whole defensive side, as they were running out on the field, go right up to Hoyer, and ‘Hey, keep ripping it, we’ve got your back. We're not going to hesitate.’ And stuff like that I think is what really helps a person when your teammates show they still believe in you.”
That the Rams were sitting on Hoyer throwing underneath probably shouldn't have been a surprise given the Niners' struggles to get the ball down the field the first two weeks. In those two games, Hoyer was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws traveling at least 15 yards in the air.
With the Rams basically inviting Hoyer, who showed a knack for hitting the deep ball in the preseason, to air it out, Hoyer RSVP'd yes. For the game, he was 7-of-9 for 227 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions on throws traveling at least 15 yards in the air.
Now that Hoyer has showed he can do it, it's a safe bet Arizona will mix it up on him more this week, which means another adjustment will be needed.
And if another disastrous start is in the offing?
"You chalk it up," Hoyer said. "You move on and go play the rest of the game.”