SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers' offense had some life for the first time in weeks with Blaine Gabbert under center. After scoring seven points or fewer in four of their last six games, they handed the Falcons (6-3) a 17-16 loss.
Gabbert, starting for the first time since 2013, threw two touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Celek, giving his team its first touchdown since Oct. 18 against the Ravens.
The 49ers won without scoring in the second half, while the defense limited Atlanta to 17 yards rushing on 14 carries.
On the first touchdown, Gabbert found Celek wide open in the left side of the end zone on a play-action pass, one play after getting ruled down at the 1-yard line on a scramble. Gabbert completed 5 of his first 7 passes for 57 yards, with 41 coming on a long catch and run by Quinton Patton on the touchdown drive.
Celek's second score came from 11 yards out, beating rookie cornerback Jalen Collins on a post route from the left side with 1:16 left in the first half.
Atlanta didn't take long to respond. It took three plays, including a 54-yard bomb to Julio Jones, to make it a four-point game, when Devonta Freeman scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan. The drive took 1:03.
Ryan completed 30 of 45 for 303 yards and the score, while Gabbert completed 15 of 25 for 185 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Gabbert ran for a first down at the two-minute warning that sealed the game for San Francisco after Falcons' coach Dan Quinn elected to kick a field goal instead of going for a go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 2:56 remaining.
The Falcons got an interception in third quarter after Jerome Simpson let Gabbert’s pass hit him in the chest and deflect to cornerback Philip Adams. However, it didn’t lead to a score.
Early in the fourth, Gabbert took a big hit from former 49ers linebacker Philip Wheeler, and was forced out of the game when an official spotter ruled he needed to be checked for a concussion.
That led to Colin Kaepernick getting two snaps, after he was benched earlier in the week, before Gabbert was allowed back in the game. The first was a running play, and the second he had an open Vance McDonald for a first down. But McDonald dropped the pass, forcing a punt.
With 7:14 left, Gabbert was intercepted by rookie Vic Beasley when he was trying to hit McDonald along the right sideline. The Falcons drove down to San Francisco's 2, but settled for the field goal to make it 17-16 with three minutes remaining, and two timeouts. San Francisco ran for two first downs, icing the game.
The Falcons opened the scoring on Matt Bryant’s 44-yard field goal on their first possession, when 49ers defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt each made nice plays to force the field goal.
Ward tackled tight end Jacob Tamme for a two-yard gain on third and 10, while Tartt broke up another pass to Tamme a play earlier.
Bryant added a 36-yard field goal midway through the second quarter to make it 7-6. With 2:45 remaining in the half, Phil Dawson connected from 44 yards after the drive was highlighted with Gabbert's completion to Patton on an impressive back-shoulder throw for 21 yards.
San Francisco kept the NFL's leading rusher, Freeman, to 12 yards on 12 carries.
In somewhat of a surprise, newcomer Shaun Draughn was the 49ers' lead running back, going for 58 yards on his first 16 carries. Patton led San Francisco with 70 yards on three catches, with Draughn adding 38 yards receiving on four receptions out of the back field.
With the win, San Francisco improves to 3-6 heading into its bye week. Its next game is Nov. 22 in Seattle.