SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After a slow start, San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance found his footing and helped keep his team's playoff hopes alive for another week.
And following Sunday's 23-7 win against the Houston Texans, there was no time wasted in wondering what comes next for the Niners at the game's most important position. That's because the 9-7 Niners need a win against the Los Angeles Rams (or help) next week to secure a postseason berth.
So, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, will it be Lance or veteran Jimmy Garoppolo under center in that all-important game?
"If Jimmy is 100% healthy and can do everything, perfect, then we'll definitely go with Jimmy," Shanahan said. "We're not just going to throw a guy in after one game like this when Jimmy has been doing it for us all year. I think it's going to be hard for Jimmy to be 100%, which I think is how most people are at this time of year, but Trey did a good job. If Jimmy can't go, we won't hesitate at all, but if we feel Jimmy can go and play confident, then Jimmy will be out there."
It figures to be another interesting week around the 49ers quarterbacks as they attempt to figure out their best option for the final week of the season.
As Shanahan pointed out, Garoppolo will resume starting duties if his right thumb is healthy enough for him to handle the ball and throw it without major issues. The torn ligament in Garoppolo's thumb makes it certain he won't be back to full strength in the next week.
But the Niners purposefully held him out of practice last week with an eye toward a potential return against the Rams. Even after Shanahan said on Friday that Garoppolo would test the thumb by throwing on Saturday or Sunday, that never happened.
Because Garoppolo didn't attempt to throw this week, the Niners are optimistic he can test it out leading into the Rams game, though when that happens is to be determined.
"Just talking to him yesterday, I had a pretty good idea that we weren't going to even push him today," Shanahan said. "I think he'll be able to do it this week; still, that's just me giving you guys an honest guess. Hopefully we'll have a better idea by Wednesday."
When Shanahan was asked whether Garoppolo needed to be "100%" in order to start next week, Shanahan said no, acknowledging that few players are that healthy this late in the season.
"If Jimmy is feeling 100% and you know that on a Monday, then that makes it very simple," Shanahan said. "I don't think that's going to be the case. We have got to see how he plays throughout the week and we've got to be ready for both, similar to how we were this week."
If Garoppolo can't go, Shanahan and the 49ers will at least enter the Rams game with bolstered confidence in Lance. Making his second NFL start and first since Oct. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals, Lance started the win against the Texans a bit shaky.
While Lance was doing OK with underneath throws, he hit some bumps when he attempted to push the ball down the field. At one point in the first half, all five of his incompletions had come on throws 15-plus yards downfield and he threw an interception on an underthrown ball for tight end George Kittle.
When the Niners got the ball back for a two-minute drive before the half, Lance began to settle in with quick strikes to receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to set up a field goal.
"He just kind of felt it after that," Kittle said. "I thought he did a really good job."
Indeed, Lance went on to go 6-of-10 for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. That included a 45-yard scoring strike to Samuel in the fourth quarter that effectively iced the game.
Lance finished 16-of-23 for 249 yards with two scores and a pick for a rating of 116.0.
"I think he did some real good things," Shanahan said. "Besides that bad interception, I thought he protected the ball really well. That was a big thing going into this game and he did a good job on all those except for one play. I think he was very efficient, just looking at his numbers and things like that."
After his first victory as a starter, Lance said he didn't know until Saturday that he was starting against the Texans for sure. That will-he-or-won't-he experience should only help in a week that figures to play out in similar fashion before the team's biggest game of the season.
"I obviously am with Jimmy every day asking him how he's feeling and everything like that," Lance said. "And he was making good progress, I know, at the end of the week, so I know he was frustrated that he wasn't able to go. It's kind of a thing where I'm always ready to go. That's my job. So, if Jimmy's healthy, he'll be the guy. And if not, I'm going to do whatever I can to kind of fill my role."