Santa Clara, CA – The Blaine Gabbert experience proved to be worth it. After benching quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Forty-Niners tried something different before heading into the Bye week. In his first start in more than two years, Gabbert threw touchdowns and lead his team to a 17-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
After a slow start San Francisco’s defense paved the way by keeping the Falcons contained early. Unable to get their offense going, Atlanta settled for a 44-yard field goal from Matt Bryant making it a 3-0 game in the first. On the following play, Bradley Pinion punted for 52 yards.
Eric Weems returned it breaking through tackles and was clear for take off until Pinion made the final blocked preventing a run scored. That was a huge break for the 49ers. Gabbert then found Quitton Patton for 21-yards and the first down. Gabbert connected with Garrett Celek for a 1-yard touchdown in the second.
“All I know is we got the victory today, we’ve got a bye week coming up and we’re going to prepare for Seattle,” said Gabbert. “That’s our next game, so whatever 11 guys we march out on the field we’re going to go up there and expect a victory.”
At this point no one is sure who will quarterback that game in Seattle. While we can assume San Francisco will stick with Gabbert, there’s a small chance Kaepernick can return. But the one person who did not want to address that question was 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula.
“We’re going to enjoy today,” Tomsula said. “Gabbert did a nice job today, as did the team. Gabbert was our starter today, and I don’t have a comment past that. We got a win today.”
Reluctant to comment on the future of the Gabbert project, Tomsula will probably leave us hanging until the last minute. Both teams struggled offensively which led to the defense taking over. By the second both teams kicked a pair of field goals, Bryant for 36 yards and Phil Dawson for 44-yards making it a 10-6 game.
But the game got interesting late in the half. Under two minutes Gabbert found Celek again for an 11-yard touchdown. The Falcons responded quickly when they moved the ball up field when Matt Ryan threw a 54-yard pass to Jacob Tamme. That setup Ryan’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman making it a 17-14 game to end the half.
“We didn’t move the ball as well today,” said Tamme. “There are a lot of things we could have done better offensively. They did a nice job on defense. People look at records, that stuff doesn’t mean anything in this league. They have a very stout defense. So you have to give them some credit.”
Gabber threw two interceptions, the final one with 7:14 remaining in the game when he attempted to hit Vance McDonald. Atlanta used that turnover into a scoring drive, resulting in a 19-yard field goal from Bryant rather than going for a touchdown with 2:56 remaining.
In his first win as a starter since 2012, Gabbert was 15 of 25 for 185 yards with two touchdown passes (both to tight end Garrett Celek in the second quarter). He ended a 10-game losing streak as a starter since beating Indianapolis on Sept. 23, 2012, improving to 6-22.
“Blaine had to approach it free minded so he could give it his best shot,” said NaVorro Bowman. “We wanted to rally around him and not think, ‘Ok the backup quarterback is our quarterback.’ We still approached this game the same as if 7 [QB Colin Kaepernick] was in there. We rallied around Blaine and he did a great job today to get us this win.”