By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—
The San Francisco 49ers returned to win the column on Sunday afternoon, taking care of the Atlanta Falcons 17-16 at Levi’s Stadium. After an interesting week that saw Colin Kaepernick benched, Vernon Davis traded, and the addition of two new running backs, the 49ers were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth in the 4th quarter to improve their record to 3-6 on the season.
Many fans will be sending Falcons head coach Dan Quinn a thank you note for the win, as his questionable play call to kick a field goal late in the fourth with the ball on the San Francisco one-yard line eventually sealed his fate.
The Falcons opened scoring on their first drive of the day after forcing a quick three-and-out on defense. Matt Ryan marched them down the field but the Falcons were unable to punch it in, leading to a Matt Bryant field goal. The quarter came to an end with the Falcons leading 3-0.
Scoring picked up in the second quarter when the recently promoted Blaine Gabbert tossed a one-yard TD to Garrett Celek off a play-action that saw the tight end wide open. Phil Dawson hit the extra point to make it 7-3.
Celek wasn’t done, however, as he caught a second 49ers touchdown just before halftime to give the Niners a 17-6 lead. The 11-yard TD reception gave him a new career high for touchdown catches in a game.
Atlanta stormed back to end the half as Matt Ryan torched the 49ers secondary, leading the Falcons on a 78-yard drive in just over a minute. He found Devonta Freeman on a 17-yard touchdown throw to make it 17-13 going into halftime.
Poor play from both teams in the second half prevented scoring until 2:56 to go in the game, where Quinn made the game-deciding play call to kick a field goal instead of going for the victory,making the score 17-16. “We believed in the decision at the time and we thought our defense was going to get it done. But from an offensive perspective we had three opportunities to punch it in before that. That’s where we’ve got to get it done,” added Ryan.
Gabbert played well enough to lead his team to victory, going 15 of 25 for 185 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, one of the interceptions wasn’t his fault, as Jerome Simpson bobbled a deep pass that ultimately ended up in the hands of Falcons corner Phillip Adams. Gabbert’s final passer rating was 76.2.
With all the injuries to running backs, the Niners were forced to sign Shaun Draughn and Pierre Thomas earlier in the week. Both Draughn and Thomas both suited up for San Francisco in the win. Draughn saw the majority of the snaps, finishing with 58 yards on the ground on 16 carries. He also caught four passes for 38 yards. Thomas carried the ball four times for 12 yards.
Both Draughn and Thomas have a unique perspective on the team, as both are newcomers. “When I came in, I’ve seen what these guys were about. I’ve seen that they have potential. They can turn it around, just like that. They just have to believe in themselves. They have to have the right guidance, and I’m going to help out the best I can to give it to them. They just need the positivity. They saw it today, and now they just have to keep believing in themselves” Thomas added.
The 49ers defense stepped up on Sunday, only allowing 12 yards on 12 carries to Devonta Freeman, the NFL’s leading rusher. “Much credit goes out to that defense. They have some great players over there. They have nice schemes, stop the run, and they just did their job,” added Freeman.
Julio Jones, the other key to Atlanta’s offense, finished with ten catches for 137 yards and no touchdowns. Marcus Cromartie, who was activated off of the practice squad earlier in the week, played relatively well going up against one of the best receivers in the league. “I knew that I could go out there and compete, and that’s what I tried to do,” he added.
The 49ers head into a bye week before a big matchup against the Seahawks in Seattle. Coach Jim Tomsula has yet to announce his starter at quarterback.