How the West Was Won Week 9: Blaine Gabbert leads 49ers to victory
Yes, you read that headline correctly.
In what some considered a head-scratching maneuver, the San Francisco 49ers put one-time golden boy Colin Kaepernick on the bench and started backup Blaine Gabbert against the Atlanta Falcons.
It paid off. Gabbert played well enough to give San Francisco their third win of the season.
It was an abbreviated week in the NFC West, with only the Niners and Rams in action. Seattle and Arizona had the week off as they prepare for their nationally-televised Sunday night affair.
Here’s a closer look at what went down in the NFC West this week.
San Francisco 49ers 17, Atlanta Falcons 16
Gabbert made his first start since Week 5 of 2013 when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and played a solid game. The former first-round pick threw two touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Celek in the second quarter and the defense hung on for a one-point win.
But it wasn’t as if there weren’t tenuous moments late in the game for San Francisco. With the 49ers leading 17-13, the Falcons faced 4th-and-goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line. Head coach Dan Quinn opted to go for the field goal, and Matt Bryant converted from 19 yards out with 3:00 remaining. The Falcons thinking was that they had two timeouts left, and could win the game with another field goal if they could force a 49ers’ punt. Gabbert converted a huge third-down situation with a 5-yard scramble right at the two-minute warning and San Francisco was able to assume victory formation.
San Francisco Money Quote: “It was a play we were working on all week that we were going to go to in crunch time. The offensive line did a tremendous job selling the power to the left and there was a run/pass option, but once I knew we had the defensive end sealed and it was me on a DB, I was just going to go for the first down regardless.” — Gabbert on his game-clinching scramble in the fourth quarter.
Stat of the Game: The San Francisco defense held Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman to just 12 yards on 12 carries in the game. Freeman came into the game averaging 89 yards per contest.
Minnesota Vikings 21, St. Louis Rams 18
Greg Zuerlein’s fourth field goal — a 53-yarder — with :12 left sent the game to overtime. But the Vikings would win it on a Blair Walsh field goal in overtime.
St. Louis had the first possession in the extra frame, but went backward. Todd Gurley was stopped for a 6-yard loss on first down. On second down, quarterback Nick Foles hit Tavon Austin on a completion, but the Rams didn’t gain any ground. Foles’ third-down throw to Stedman Bailey was incomplete, and they had to punt. Johnny Hekker uncorked a 63-yarder, but Marcus Sherels returned it 26 yards to give the Vikings great field position at their own 49-yard line.
Minnesota then went on a seven-play, 29-yard drive, fueled by an 11-yard run by Adrian Peterson on 3rd-and-1 to extend the possession and set up Walsh’s heroics.
The Vikings were able to win without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter by a shot from St. Louis’ Lamarcus Joyner, who drew an unnecessary roughness flag on the play. Minnesota head coach became the latest in an ever-growing line of people to state that he believes the Rams play dirty.
St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher is also drawing criticism for his decision to go for a two-point conversion following a first-quarter touchdown run by Todd Gurley. It failed, and created a 4-point deficit.
St. Louis Money Quote: “We were going to need as many scoring opportunities as we possibly can. Also, it was indicative of how the wind was.” — Fisher on his decision to go for two in the first quarter.
Stat of the Game: Zuerlein made field goals from 61 and 53 yards. His 61-yarder in the second quarter was his second career make from 60 yards or longer, making him only the second kicker in NFL history two have two or more from that distance. Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski is the other.
Week 9 Award Winners
Offensive Player of the Week: Blaine Gabbert, QB, San Francisco – Gabbert’s numbers weren’t great — 15-of-25-for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two picks — but he did have a key third-down conversion in crunch time to ice the game for the 49ers.
Honorable Mention: San Francisco TE Garrett Celek, St. Louis RB Todd Gurley, St. Louis WR Kenny Britt
Defensive Player of the Week: NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco – Bowman filled the stat sheet in the win over Atlanta, racking up seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, three quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
Honorable Mention: San Francisco LB Aaron Lynch, St. Louis CB Trumaine Johnson
Special Teams Player of the Week: Greg Zuerlein, K, St. Louis – “Legatron” had four field goals, including two from over 60 yards out. Yes, he missed one too, but in a week where only half the division played, there’s not a lot to choose from.