ATLANTA -- A 49ers defense that has been run over, run down and run off the field all season managed to grow even weaker Sunday when starting inside linebacker Gerald Hodges was deactivated for violating team rules.
That left San Francisco with two inside linebackers in uniform, begging the question: What happens if one gets hurt?
San Francisco didn't have to wait long for the answer. Starter Nick Bellore was knocked out of the game with an elbow injury in the first quarter, triggering a musical-chairs approach to the position. Safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Antoine Bethea, as well as outside linebacker Ahmad, Brooks have lined up next to Michael Wilhoite in the first half.
None have slowed down the Falcons, who were atop the NFL in scoring entering the game and padded their lead with three touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
Atlanta finished the half with 320 yards of offense, a full-game sum for most teams. Of that total, 192 came through the air and 128 on the ground. The 49ers are now just 16 yards from setting a franchise record in rushing yards allowed in one season.
The 49ers also lost starting receiver Quinton Patton to a foot injury, staring cornerback Jimmie Ward to a shoulder injury and tight end Blake Bell to a shoulder injury. With Torrey Smith already out for the game, the 49ers' pass-catching crew consists of Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper and Rod Streater at wide receiver and Garrett Celek and Je'Ron Hamm at tight end.
Celek caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick at the start of the second quarter. Kaepernick also connected with Streater at the end of the half on a short touchdown, Streater’s first since September 7, 2014 when he was with the Raiders. Phil Dawson missed the extra point -- his first miss of the year -- making the halftime score 28-13.
Wilhoite, the team's lone inside linebacker, forced and recovered a Devonta Freeman fumble at the San Francisco 1-yard line later in the quarter. But the ensuing offensive drive fizzled at the 37-yard line and Atlanta scored its fourth touchdown when it got the ball back.