It’s probably too early to start selling playoff tickets, and the jury is still out on the 49ers’ passing game.
It’s possible, too, that the Los Angeles Rams are as bad as they looked Monday night in San Francisco’s 28-0 victory in the regular-season opener at Levi’s Stadium. In that case, 49ers fans still may not have much of an idea about the possibilities for this team until they play the defending NFC champion Panthers this coming Sunday.
But after a 5-11 season in 2015, the Niners are 1-0 in 2016 and off to a fresh start under new head coach Chip Kelly. And that’s worth a lot.
San Francisco took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 10-play, 52-yard yard drive, capped by Carlos Hyde’s 11-yard run, and the Rams – recently transplanted from St. Louis – looked incapable of mounting any kind of comeback with an anemic passing game and running back Todd Gurley never able to get free.
The 49ers scored again in the second quarter, taking advantage of a NaVorro Bowman interception to set up a 3-yard TD run by Shaun Draughn after a 9-play, 59-yard drive. The 49ers added a third touchdown in the fourth quarter when Ray-Ray Armstrong’s interception led to a 77-yard march and an 8-yard TD pass from Blaine Gabbert to tight end Vance McDonald.
San Francisco tacked on a fourth TD when Hyde scored on a 1-yard run to conclude a 10-play, 80-yard march after Rams’ punter Johnny Hekker was forced to punt for the 10th time in the game.
The new faster-paced spread offense installed by Kelly wasn’t dynamic, but it was effective. Hyde ran 23 times for 88 yards and Gabbert ran nine times for 43, including four scrambles for first downs in the first half.
Gabbert also was steady in the passing game, completing 22-of-35 throws for 170 yards and no interceptions or sacks. Gabbert wasn’t a gunslinger by any stretch, averaging just 4.9 yards per completion. But he distributed the ball to seven different receivers – eight if you count the pass that was batted into the air that he caught himself.
One of the big questions going into the season was whether Gabbert would be able to build upon his comeback season of 2015 and continue to improve. On Monday night, he showed those same flashes of athleticism and confidence that helped him win the starting job over Colin Kaepernick this summer.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, again kneeled for the national anthem as a sign of protest against racial injustice in the U.S., joined by teammate Eric Reid. Kaepernick took over late in the game and was greeted by some boos and chants of "USA! USA!"
On defense Monday night, the 49ers throttled Gurley, holding him to 47 yards on 17 carries, a 2.8 yards-per-carry average. Bowman had a big night, in on eight tackles, including one for loss, his interception and a pass defensed. Ahmad Brooks and Arik Armstead had sacks and Rams' game-breaking wideout Tavon Austin was held to just 13 yards on four catches.
All told, the 49ers held the Rams to just 186 total yards and didn't allow Los Angeles to cross midfield until the third quarter.
The 49ers now have a short week to get ready for the Panthers, but they sit atop the NFC West – the first time since the 2015 opener – tied with Seattle.