SANTA CLARA -- All aboard the Blaine Train?
It's too early to start carving a statue of newly anointed starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but he and the 49ers' last-ranked offense performed far better than expected in the first half and lead the Falcons 17-13 at halftime.
The game started as scripted with the 49ers committing a pre-snap penalty -- a false start by center Marcus Martin -- on their first snap and then going three and out. The Falcons, meanwhile, engineered a nine-play drive that ended in a Matt Bryant field goal.
But both the 49ers' offense and defense seemed to gain some bounce -- something that was decidedly absent in the last two games -- later in the opening quarter.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
After gaining 11 yards on their first two drives, the 49ers went 84 yards in 12 plays on their third.
Gabbert, looking comfortable operating the San Francisco offense, avoided pressure from up the middle on third and 6 and found Quinton Patton, who ran down the field for a 41-yard gain.
Six plays later, the 49ers picked up a first down on a fourth-and-one run by Kendall Gaskins, one of three newcomer runners playing for the 49ers. Gabbert again showed savvy from the pocket -- his biggest critique when he was with the Jaguars -- when he dodged two Falcons pass rushers and ran the ball to the 1-yard line.
On the next play, Gabbert executed a perfect play fake and found tight end Garrett Celek alone in the end zone for the 49ers' first touchdown since their Oct. 18 win over the Ravens.
Gabbert later hit Celek on an 11-yard touchdown. He has a 127.3 passer rating at the half and has not been sacked. The 49ers’ final drive of the first half featured a 30-yard run by Shaun Draughn, the longest carry of the year by any 49ers running back.
The defense, meanwhile, has held Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher, to one yard on six carries. However, they allowed a 54-yard completion to Julio Jones at the end of the half. That completion set up a 17-yard catch-and-run score by Freeman to cut the 49ers' lead to four points.