It’s been a season to forget for the San Francisco 49ers – but a sliver of hope has crept in following Blaine Gabbert’s first start of the year, a 17-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on November 8. The 49ers had last week off before facing division rivals Seattle on Sunday – and Gabbert will be given another chance to earn the team a victory, which could revive slim playoff hopes.
“Right now we are coming off a nice win at home, and have a game that we have to win. [The] coach is behind [Blaine] and we all just want the best chance to win and get into the [playoff] hunt,” said one offensive player.
So Gabbert will start against Seattle, but coach Jim Tomsula has refused to name Gabbert the starter beyond that, leaving the door open for Colin Kaepernick to return. This has left players unwilling to throw their full weight, at least publicly, behind the young quarterback.
“[Gabbert] won the game, but it’s the NFL, and you have to put it together for a few games before you get the full support of the team,” another player said.
Tomsula said during his weekly radio program on KNBR that Gabbert “did a nice job out there” to earn a second consecutive start.
“He had an opportunity, and I thought he did very well. I came back and watched the film, and what I felt during the game and what I watched on tape matched up for me, and I made a decision,” said Tomsula.
At 3-6 overall, the 49ers believed making a change at quarterback was necessary to make any push toward re-entering the playoff discussion. San Francisco will need some help from other teams to get into the playoffs, but after stumbling through weeks of ineptitude on offense, Gabbert’s performance against Atlanta has reignited faint hopes that the franchise can find its way through what has been a trying year.
Kaepernick, who led the Niners to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game in consecutive years before the squad slumped to an 8-8 finish a year ago, has been ineffective for much of the season, completing only 59% of his passes for 1,615 yards. He does have six touchdowns to only five interceptions, but in the previous two games before Gabbert was inserted into the lineup, Kaepernick and the offense were unable to move the football, leading many in the organization and outside calling for changes.
And in only one week, Gabbert has partially won over many observers.
“After watching their beloved 49ers look like a Pop Warner team against Seattle and St Louis the previous two weeks, fans were reminded what hope felt like. Gabbert did that,” wrote San Jose Mercury Times columnist Marcus Thompson.
Tomsula agreed, telling the Guardian on Friday that Gabbert showed that he plays the game cerebrally. “He got us the chance to make plays, and we needed that after the past couple of weeks. We will continue to address the situation and determine who is our best chance to win.”
Gabbert passed for 185 yards on 15-of-25 passing and tossed two touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Celek. The young QB also had an important game-clincher with a five-yard run late on third-and-four.
The win ended Gabbert’s 10-game losing streak as a starter, and gave hope to the once heralded prospect that he can revive his career in a place known for quarterbacks. One 49ers official said that he believed Gabbert could be the jumpstart that Steve Young was for the franchise in the early 1990s after Joe Montana was injured.
“We win the next game, and then we will see where we are and what we need to do to win the next one. We can’t be too concerned about what other teams are doing. There are still games to be played,” said Tomsula.
Gabbert will be under center this Sunday in Seattle, but results are what matters, and Tomsula seems willing to go back to Kaepernick if the Gabbert doesn’t perform.
“We’re working on what we’re looking at right now, getting combinations together on the field. We need to win football games, and we need to win them one at a time. We we are going to focus on winning one football game at a time,” he said in his radio show.