In the week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula was asked if he viewed Seattle as a team in decline.
“I do not,” he said. “I think Seattle is really good.”
On Sunday – in a battle of two struggling franchises that recently were the elite of the NFC – the Seahawks certainly showed they have declined far less than the 49ers.
Even without injured running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks were an efficient team on offense and defense, beating the 49ers 29-13 to drop San Francisco to 3-7. Seattle gets back to .500 at 5-5.
Russell Wilson completed 24-of-29 throws for 260 yards and three touchdowns and undrafted backup running back Thomas Rawls did a great Beast Mode impersonation, running for a team rookie-record 209 yards and a TD to continue Seattle’s recent dominance of its NFC West rival.
It was just more bad news for a 49ers franchise awash in bad tidings.
But on the same weekend the team announced former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick is now out for the season because of an injury to his left shoulder that will require surgery, his successor, Blaine Gabbert, gave the franchise a glimmer of hope that perhaps he still has potential to play in the NFL at a high level.
Gabbert, a first-round bust in Jacksonville, completed 22-of-34 throws for 264 yards, a TD and no interceptions and posted a quarterback rating of 98.2. The performance in Seattle – where Kaepernick never played well – follows his first start against the Falcons last week in which he completed 15-of-25 for 185 yards, two TDs and a 76.3 rating in an upset victory.
Though the 49ers never really were in the game at CenturyLink Field Sunday – they trailed 20-0 at one point in the second quarter – Gabbert at times looked sharp. At the end of the second quarter, he led a 92-yard TD drive that ended with tight end Vance McDonald’s 19-yard scoring catch, the first of his pro career. Gabbert later made some nice throws in drives that ended with Phil Dawson field goals of 27 and 25 yards in the third quarter.
After one particularly good stretch, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee tweeted, “Oh, so thhhiiiiisssss is why the Jaguars traded up to draft Blaine Gabbert.”
But Gabbert also nearly threw two interceptions (both dropped by defenders) and has a long track record of coming up short.
Still, Gabbert showed a nice pocket presence Sunday against a strong Seattle front seven that sacked him just twice (Kaepernick was sacked six times in the teams’ previous meeting in October) and at times looked off pirmary targets and threw lasers to secondary receivers.
With all hope of a winning record or playoffs long gone, the 49ers will be looking for any positive rays of sunshine, and that will include Gabbert. If he can play well over the final six games – beginning with next Sunday’s game against the division-leading Cardinals – perhaps he’ll be in the mix for a starting job in 2016.
Then again, this roster and coaching staff may more likely be just playing out the string, waiting for a giant offseason upheaval.
But for two consecutive weeks, at least, Gabbert has shown flashes of the talent that led him to once be a coveted prospect out of Missouri.