On Sunday, the 49ers opened their brand-new home, and the place looked beautiful.
Levi’s Stadium was the star of what was an otherwise ugly show by the home team, a 34-0 exhibition loss to the Denver Broncos.
Of course, exhibition results don’t mean much. Key Niners players weren’t on the field or played very little. But one 49er who needed to have a good game, didn’t: backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
After a bad game in Baltimore in Week 1 of the preseason, Gabbert was equally ineffective vs. the Broncos. In two weeks he’s 11-of-26 for 60 yards and two interceptions with a passer rating of 17.9. Plus, as Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group pointed out, his four completions in Sunday’s second quarter were for 3, 3, 1 and 4 yards.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback covered Sunday’s game and sounded the alarm on Gabbert.
“(Colin) Kaepernick is going to get hit a lot (as a running quarterback), and when quarterbacks get hit a lot, they’re subject to injury,” King wrote. “And the Niners’ backup situation is grim. Blaine Gabbert looks as bad as he ever did in Jacksonville, and he’s got a $2 million guaranteed deal to be an insurance policy, and (head coach Jim) Harbaugh said Sunday there’d be no cavalry on the way; the backup would be either Gabbert or Josh Johnson.”
Gabbert – hoping for a re-boot to his career after losing his job in Jacksonville – has been disappointed by his play. He’s received plenty of snaps the first two games, but his accuracy has been off and he’s been picked off twice.
“The biggest thing I have to do is take care of the football,” Gabbert told Inman, when asked about the third-quarter interception he threw. “It’s just one play. You’ve got to eliminate that one play in a drive because that changes the outcome of it.”
One of the problems facing the 49ers at this point, however, is that Nos. 3 and 4 QBs Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson aren't playing well, either.
Johnson was 2-for-3 Sunday for 9 yards, but lost a fumble; Bethel-Thompson threw an interception in his fourth-quarter appearance.
The play of his backup quarterbacks prompted Harbaugh to tell reporters that “whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be” win the No. 2 job behind Kaepernick. Their next audition will come this Sunday against the Chargers.
Although Gabbert is owed $2 million for the 2014 season, the 49ers can’t let that play a factor in their decision. If Johnson outplays him, he should be given the job. Or, if there’s a promising QB left available from another team, perhaps the 49ers should bring him in before the Sept. 7 opener.
Because through two exhibition games, Gabbert hasn’t shown he’s any better than he was with the Jaguars, where he turned into a sack and interception machine. A $2 million conract is a big bite to swallow, but it might be even more painful to watch Gabbert try to lead the 49ers in 2014 if something happens to Kaepernick.