With a system inspired by two QBs, Shanahan of the 49ers will leave his opponents guessing


Kyle Shanahan may have arrived as a true NFL coach at the start of the first quarter Sunday in Detroit.

That’s when we found out that Shanahan wasn’t afraid to take the family sedan off the road. Tie up the children and hold the dog.

The 49ers were 1st and 10 on the Lions’ 16-yard line, scoreless game, when Shanahan made a substitution: Jimmy Garoppolo out, Trey Lance. The rookie quarterback ran 1 yard, ho-hum, but it could have been the start of something big.

Garoppolo came back for two games, then Lance came back on the field at 1st and 5th and, for his first assist in the NFL, threw a nice TD at Trent Sherfield.

The future of the 49ers had arrived.

The 49ers quarterback’s official passing torch is still somewhere down the road, perhaps halfway through the season. Everyone knows it happens.

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

Of course, Shanahan had fun with his preseason quarterbacks, mixing and matching. But it didn’t make sense. Could Shanahan afford to bring his crazy two-quarterback system into the real season? Or, with a win over the Lions an absolute must, would it open cautiously? Shanahan had an outing – Lance missed several days of training with a chipped bone in a finger.

Shanahan had already shown he was not afraid to brave convention – and his own history of favoring conventional-style quarterbacks – when he helped orchestrate Lance’s writing.

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

Shanahan doesn’t flout. It is toasted, with whipped cream.

Some other observations of the opening day …

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

• “There’s no NFL player with more pressure on him” than Garoppolo, said one of the pre-game network’s spokespersons. But what if the two QB system, rather than putting pressure on both guys, actually takes some pressure disabled the two? Neither has to carry the team, and it is possible that they complement each other wonderfully.

• Reality check: it was the Lions.

• The 49ers sent captains Jimmie Ward, Raheem Mostert and Fred Warner for the draw. What, no Brandon belt?

• Did Garoppolo audition for the Lions quarterback position next year? They have a few more first-round choices that they could offer.

• If Jason Verrett is as badly injured as the team feared, the 49ers should boycott all future turf games. Remember last season’s carnage against the Jets in the Meadlowlands? Seriously, NFL? Weed is legal, you know.

• The Lions slashed the 49ers’ defense for 105 rushing yards in the first half, 15 plays at 7 yards per carry. It’s a defense starring certified stars Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Fred Warner. Who’s Here Now: DeMeco Ryans, Rookie Defensive Coordinator. Meanwhile, rookie head coach Robert Saleh’s Jets lost 19-14.

• The Lions are a terrible team on paper, and based on a constant lack over the past seasons. But they had a wild card giving the team and their fans new hope: new head coach Dan Campbell, already a popular hero in Detroit. Could Lions find magic in a guy who combines Tommy Lasorda and Mike Ditka? That fourth quarter rally might have said it, but as Shanahan will tell you, you’ve got to have players.

• How many pages are there on that flip chart that the 49ers’ quarterbacks wear on their left wrists? Looks like they are preparing to order off the menu at TGI Fridays.

• Lance wears a gold chain around his neck. Has he checked whether Aqib Talib is retired?

• Read the thought balloons above Lance’s head at various points in the game. “It’s not that hard.” And, “It’s not that easy.” it’s called education

• A Day 1 prize for the 49ers: Worst First Play, the failed exchange between center Alex Mack and Garoppolo. You must have mercy on Mack. Good player, key to the 49ers’ success this season, but you won’t read his name in a sentence that doesn’t also include “butt sweat”.

• It will be a close race this season for the 49ers’ offensive MVP – George Kittle the catcher or George Kittle the blocker. Why is this guy so angry?

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

• By the way, this race took place on the right side, home of supercharged Mike McGlinchey.

• Pre-game observation: Jimmy Johnson’s hair is in midseason shape. And is this the same Randy Moss who has manipulated the media throughout his career? Some see it as charming, I call it smarm.

Scott Ostler is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: sostler@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @scottostler

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