SANTA CLARA – Just minutes after the conclusion of the 49ers’ fourth consecutive loss, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was dressed and out the locker room door that leads to the parking lot.
Kaepernick remained on the sideline throughout the 49ers’ 33-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium. It was the fourth consecutive game in which he did not play. And he was the first player out of the building after another abysmal defeat.
Coach Chip Kelly has given starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert one vote of confidence after another. But for the first time, Kelly left the door open for the a possible change at quarterback when the 49ers return to practice on Tuesday to begin preparations to face the Buffalo Bills.
“We’re going to go and look at everything,” Kelly said. “We got a couple of days off, in terms of getting ready for Buffalo and we’ll assess the film.”
He will not like what he sees from an offense that generated just 286 total yards. And the 49ers’ passing game, which ranked last in the NFL in yards per game, could not even meet its lowly average of 178.8 yards from the first four games of the season.
Gabbert completed 18 of 31 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked seven times for minus-27 yards, including a late-game safety. Kelly said he did not consider an in-game change at quarterback on Thursday.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Gabbert said. “I let this team and this organization down tonight. I did not play good whatsoever. And that’s on me. I had two crucial turnovers that led to points for the Cardinals and that was the difference in the game right there.”
Gabbert said he fully understands that his poor play has created a situation in which the coaching staff must discuss the team's quarterback situation in the coming days.
“Yeah, I got to play better, there’s no question about that,” Gabbert said. “I have to do a better job leading this football team, executing this offense, scoring points, winning games. The whole nine yards. That’s just the way it goes. I have to play better.”
Gabbert won the starting job at the beginning of the regular season based on his body of work through the offseason program and training camp, Kelly said at the time. On Thursday, he said Gabbert has continued to be the team’s starting quarterback because he has been better than Kaepernick in practices.
“Yeah, Blaine has done a really nice job in practice, yes,” Kelly confirmed.
But, clearly, the 49ers have not been able to carry over any of the good things they might be showing in practice.
“It’s the entire offense,” Kelly said. “I’d expect us to execute well in practice. It’s a controlled environment. You’re in a lot of trouble if you’re not having a lot success in practice. We have to make sure we can take it to practice field to the game field, and we’re not doing that right now on the offensive side of the ball.”
Said Gabbert, “We just got to find ways to stay in that mode. It starts with the quarterback. I got to deliver the ball. I got to make the right reads. I got to deliver the football on time and accurately for us to be successful on offense.”
The sparse crowd at Levi’s Stadium made its feelings known on the team’s quarterback situation. In the third quarter, and the 49ers’ struggles continued to mount, there were loud chants of “We want Kap!”
Gabbert said he did not hear it.
“I’m focused on leading the 11 guys on the field,” Gabbert said. “When you’re in the game and in a situation like that, your focus on that play, that specific drive. So we’re all locked in and that’s it.”
The coaching staff and the coaching staff alone will make the decision on how to proceed at quarterback, Kelly said. He said general manager Trent Baalke will not have a voice in the process.
“Any decision that’s made with the current roster is a coaching staff thing,” Kelly said. “Trent has never come in and said, ‘This guy has to play’ or ‘That guy has to play.’ Trent does a great job of acquiring talent and getting players on this football team, but he’s never once told me who has to play where and what the lineup is.”