SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Blaine Gabbert is 1-0 as the 49ers' starting quarterback after beating the Falcons, 17-6 Sunday. But head coach Jim Tomsula was reluctant to name him the starter in their next game Nov. 22 in Seattle following a bye week.
Gabbert, who improved to 6-22 as a starter, threw for 185 yards on 15 of 25 completions, with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, although one interception hit receiver Jerome Simpson in the chest before bouncing to Falcons cornerback Phillip Adams.
"Right out the gate," Tomsula said to himself, when the first questioned posed in his post-game press conference was if Gabbert would start the next game.
"We're going to enjoy today. Gabbert did a nice job today, as did the team...We still got a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do."
Of course, Gabbert replaced Colin Kaepernick this week, after Tomsula met with his signal callers on Monday, after electing not to name a starting quarterback for Sunday's game against Atlanta.
"Gabbert was the starter today. And I don't have a comment past that. We got a win today," Tomsula said afterwards. "...Because, I'm going to go back and watch tape. And Blaine had a great game today, K? I'm talking about what a great job Blaine Gabbert did, and what a great job the team did today."
What did he like about Gabbert's performance?
"I thought he did what he does in practice. I thought he did what he's been doing and improving on since he's got here."
Gabbert was able to make plays with his arm and his legs. Both his touchdown passes went to tight end Garrett Celek, who has become the team's most consistent player at the position, making the trade of former Vernon Davis more palatable. His longest play was to a streaking Quinton Patton that helped set up the first touchdown to Celek, which came on play-action from on third down from the 1-yard line.
The second came from 11 yards out toward the end of the first half, when Celek was matched up against rookie cornerback Jalen Collins. Celek ran a post route and scored from the left side, although he wasn't expecting the throw.
"With that coverage, there were three guys over there. So, really I shouldn’t get the ball," Celek said. "For him to throw to me was kind of surprising. I was able to snag it and score."
The 49ers didn't score in the second half. But they still needed Gabbert to come up with one more big play.
After the Falcons elected to kick a field goal to make 17-16 with 2:56 remaining, the 49ers needed two first downs to salt away the victory.
Just before the two-minute warning, facing a third-and-four, the 49ers dialed up a bootleg for Gabbert to the right side. It was the right call given the defensive look, and Gabbert slid down safely in bounds to give the offense the first-down. Then, Kendall Gaskins, who has been on the 53-man roster for a total of eight days, ran back-to-back plays for 11 yards to seal the win.
For the 49ers' last-ranked offense, that scored seven points or fewer in four of their previous six games, Gabbert provided a jolt in the arm, even if it turns out to be a temporary one.
"I don’t think it’s really a new quarterback," Celek said of the struggles during the team's 2-6 start. "I think just because we’ve been losing, you try something new. I think that’s more of what it was. And we found something that works for us."
How long Gabbert is the team's starter remains to be seen. But for Tomsula, who's 3-6 in his first full season as head coach, it's unlikely he turns back to Kaepernick in time for a to trip to CenturyLink Field, his house of horrors.
Gabbert was asked if he expects to start against the Seahawks, which he seemed prepared to answer.
“All I know is we got the victory today. We got a bye week coming up and we’re going to prepare for Seattle. That’s our next game up there. So, whatever 11 guys we march out on the field, we’re going to go up there and expect a victory,” Gabbert said.
Then, he was asked of Tomsula told him to say that.
"No. I consider myself a smart guy so I can form my own words and sentences,” he said, laughing.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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