SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Blaine Gabbert did enough.
The San Francisco 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon. Not by a lot; the game was ugly. But the Niners finished with 17 points—one more than the Falcons scored—and a win is a win is a win. Always.
Gabbert wasn’t great, or even particularly good. He finished the game with a passer rating of 76.2 and, in the second half, passed for only 70 yards, threw two picks and posted a rating of 41.2.
But he beat Atlanta. And not only that: Gabbert is one of the main reasons San Francisco won.
Of course, the defense is another big reason for the win. The defense held the Falcons’ fourth-ranked offense to just 16 points and held the NFL’s leading rusher, Devonta Freeman, to 12 rushing yards on 12 carries. The defense was great.
But Gabbert was the difference between winning and losing. San Francisco would have lost the game if Colin Kaepernick had been the quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst changed almost nothing about the offense for this game—he called the same plays he has been calling all season. The plays were working all of a sudden. Why?
Well, for one, Gabbert didn’t commit one delay-of-game penalty.
Two, he didn’t stand in the pocket and hold the ball forever like Kaepernick tends to do. Gabbert threw the ball quickly and on time before the opposing defense could get to him. The Falcons sacked Gabbert exactly zero times.
Gabbert was a checkdown machine Sunday, as opposed to Kaepernick, who loathes the checkdown pass. Kaepernick would rather keep the ball and try to avoid the sack even though he’s no good at avoiding them. He isn’t quick.
Gabbert is. A couple of times, he juked a pass-rusher and ran for significant gains.
His best run was his final run, just before the two-minute warning. The Niners were up by only one point—they needed to use as much of the clock as possible.
It was 3rd-and-4 from San Francisco’s 26-yard line. If the Niners didn’t get the first down, the Falcons would have had plenty of time to drive down and kick the game-winning field goal.
The center snapped the ball. Gabbert faked a handoff to his left, ran a naked bootleg to his right and beat a defensive back to the first-down marker. And that wasn’t even the best part of the play.
Gabbert was sprinting toward the sideline and easily could have kept sprinting out of bounds. He didn’t. He slid in bounds, and the clock ran down to the two-minute warning.
How many times have we seen Kaepernick carelessly stroll out of bounds in the same situation? Three? Four?
Gabbert is a smarter quarterback than Kaepernick. Gabbert deserves to start the 49ers’ next game, which will be Week 11.
After the Falcons game, a reporter asked 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula what he liked from Gabbert during the contest, and if Gabbert would be starting quarterback going forward. This was the first question of the press conference.
“Right out the gate, huh?” Tomsula said, feigning surprise and sounding annoyed. “We’re going to enjoy today. Gabbert did a nice job today, as did the team.” Tomsula left it at that.
“Just to clarify,” another reporter said, “Gabbert will be your starter for your next game?"
“Gabbert was our starter today, and I don’t have a comment past that,” Tomsula announced.
The reporter followed up. “What did you like about what Gabbert did today?”
“I thought he did what he does in practice,” Tomsula said. “I thought he did what he’s been doing and improving on since he’s got here.”
Tomsula couldn’t say one specific thing he liked.
NaVorro Bowman could. When a reporter asked Bowman what impressed him about Gabbert’s performance, Bowman didn’t hesitate.
“His confidence,” Bowman said. “Just going out there and executing what the coaches have asked him to do throughout the week. Expectations I think came from the teammates more than the outsiders, and he definitely led us and played for us today. Hats go off to him, and looking forward to what’s coming up the road next.”
Translation: It’s nice to have a confident quarterback for a change. Kaepernick has none left.
Bowman wasn’t done heaping praise on Gabbert. “With Blaine coming in, I wanted to see if we could bring morale back and see if we could get it going after the bye week. I think guys are excited now.”
Translation: Guys were not excited and morale was low when Kaepernick was the quarterback.
How do you think Bowman and the rest of the guys would feel if Tomsula benched Gabbert during the bye week and reinserted Kaepernick into the lineup?
They probably would revolt.
After Bowman left, Gabbert came to the podium, and a reporter informed him Tomsula wouldn’t name him the starter for the next game. “Do you expect to be the starter?” the reporter asked.
“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—that’s our next game up there,” Gabbert said. “So, whatever 11 guys we march out on the field, we’re going to go up there and expect a victory.”
Gabbert, the diplomat.
“Is that what (Tomsula) told you to say, or did you come up with that on your own?” the reporter asked.
Gabbert smiled. “I consider myself a smart guy, so I can form my own words and sentences,” he said, although he didn’t need to form anything. He did enough. He is the starter.
All quotations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.