“We want Kap!”
Chants from a sparse home crowd for the 49ers’ backup quarterback began in the third quarter of the team’s 33-21 loss to Arizona and only increased in volume a few minutes later after Blaine Gabbert threw his second interception in San Francisco territory.
So after four straight losses and a third blowout defeat, Chip Kelly was asked Thursday to respond to those chants. Is it time to make a change at quarterback?
“I think we’re going to look at everything,” he said. “I mean, we’re 1-4.”
That answer was different than his previous replies, which have made it clear he didn’t think Colin Kaepernick was ready to take over the starting role. Even after the game, Kelly noted that Gabbert has been better in practices than Kaepernick, who has not yet regained the weight and strength he had before undergoing shoulder, knee and thumb surgeries. Kelly also said he never contemplated turning to Kaepernick during the game.
But Kelly and the 49ers coaches need something that will alter the 49ers’ downward spiral. Thursday’s loss sunk the 49ers into last place in the NFC West. And their 1-4 start is worse than even last season’s, which ended in a 5-11 season.
Even Gabbert said he understood that the 49ers might have to think about a change at his position.
“Yeah, I’ve got to get better,” he said. “There’s no question (about) that. I’ve got to do a better job leading this football team, executing this offense, scoring points, winning games, the whole nine yards.”
Thursday’s outing included all the themes from the 49ers’ previous defeats: They had trouble sustaining momentum on offense, and they couldn’t stop the opponent’s rushing game.
Running back David Johnson surpassed the 100-yard mark with a 23-yard carry early in the third quarter and became the fourth straight runner to get at least 100 yards against the 49ers. Johnson finished with 157 rushing yards, more than Carolina’s Fozzy Whittaker, Seattle’s Christine Mi chael and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott had in previous weeks.
But the 49ers also failed at things they had done well previously.
After giving up just three sacks in four games, they surrendered seven against the Cardinals, including a fourth-quarter safety by defensive tackle Calais Campbell.
They also committed costly penalties, including a running-into-the-kicker foul by rookie Rashard Robinson on a field-goal attempt that gave the Cardinals a fresh set of downs and set up the first of Johnson’s two rushing touchdowns
“We’re not a very penalized team,” Kelly noted. “But when the penalties occur, they’re huge for us.”
That seems to be one of the 49ers’ biggest issues: An inability to recover from mistakes or to keep them from snowballing into routs.
As was the case Sunday against the Cowboys, the 49ers scored first. Gabbert connected with his favorite target, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, four times for 63 yards on the drive, the last a 9-yard pass that found Kerley wide open in front of the goal line. He casually crossed it for his second touchdown in four days.
The 49ers, however, couldn’t stay on that track.
Later in the quarter, linebacker Chandler Jones batted a Gabbert pass into the air, and Campbell gathered it in at San Francisco’s 21-yard line. The Cardinals needed only one play and six seconds to convert, which they did when wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald shook cornerback Tramaine Brock and Drew Stanton found him for an easy touchdown.
Arizona’s offense didn’t have to work hard for its second touchdown, either.
San Francisco kick returner Chris Davis began the second half with a fumble at his 14-yard line. The Cardinals seemed content to settle for a short field goal. But when Robinson ran into kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona quickly converted the error into a touchdown.
Another Gabbert interception, this one by former 49ers cornerback Marcus Cooper on the first play of the fourth quarter, set up a 36-yard Cardinals field goal.
Gabbert finished 18 of 31 for 162 yards and a 56.1 passer rating, his second-lowest of the season.
“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.”