The 49ers went into Sunday’s game against the Falcons with almost nothing in their favor.
Running backs Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush were lost to injury, tight end Vernon Davis had been traded, the team was in a deep slump and No. 2 quarterback Blaine Gabbert – who was booed out of Jacksonville as a first-round bust – was given the start over Colin Kaepernick.
At Jacksonville, Gabbert's record had been 5-22.
Oddsmakers made the Falcons – who have one of the NFL’s most explosive playmaking tandems in Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman – 4½-point favorites. And even that seemed kind.
But in the NFL, weird things happen. And at Levi’s Stadium Sunday, the weirdness was Gabbert throwing two touchdown passes to lead the 49ers to a 17-16 victory over Atlanta.
The victory improves San Francisco to just 3-6 heading into the bye week, and drops Atlanta to 6-3.
It was a strange cast of characters leading the 49ers. For one, Gabbert completed 15-of-25 passes for 185 yards and the two scores, while also throwing two interceptions. He also picked up 32 yards on nine carries.
Tight end Garrett Celek, picking up for the absence of Davis, caught two passes, both going for first-half touchdowns – breaking the team’s two-game touchdown drought.
And running back Shaun Draughn – who’s played for the Chiefs, Ravens, Bears, Chargers and Browns before his recent signing – picked up 58 yards on 16 carries, including a burst for 30 yards.
The 49ers defense, meanwhile, bent but did not break, yielding 303 passing yards to quarterback Matt Ryan. But San Francisco shut down Freeman, the league’s No. 1 running back, holding him to 12 yards on 12 carries.
“Gabbert did a nice job today, as did the team,” 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula told the media after the game. He said he was proud of the job his new quarterback did, but said he wasn’t naming him the starter for the team’s next game against Seattle on Nov. 22 until he can better evaluate the performance.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Tomsula. “I’m really proud of the way the guys competed today, but we have a lot of work to do.”