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What We Learned from 49ers vs. Falcons

On paper, an injury-depleted roster starting a new quarterback against a 6-2 foe doesn't sound all that encouraging.

But as is so often said, that's why they play the games.

Blaine Gabbert led three first-half scoring drives and the defense smothered the high-powered Atlanta Falcons, as the San Francisco 49ers held on for a 17-16 upset win at Levi's® Stadium on Sunday.

The 49ers have now won three out of five games at home this season and are 3-6 overall entering the bye week.

Gabbert Shines in Debut as 49ers Starter

Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.

Gabbert looked calm, cool and collected in his first NFL start since 2013. There were bumps in the road, yes, but the fifth-year quarterback delivered when he had to.

Gabbert finished his day completing 15-of-25 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 76.2 passer rating.

That stat line could've looked better if it weren't for several drops. As a team, the 49ers dropped five passes, the most harmful of which Jerome Simpson bobbled into the arms of a Falcons defensive back for an interception.

Nevertheless, Gabbert made numerous plays with his arm and legs. The offensive line played well, but when it did allow Falcons rushers through, Gabbert showed terrific pocket presence in avoiding sacks while keeping his eyes downfield.

On one third-down play in particular, Gabbert sidestepped a defensive lineman, rolled to his right and fired a strike to Quinton Patton for a 41-yard gain.

Patton also hauled in a 21-yard pass as part of a three-catch outing for a career-high 70 yards in place of the injured Anquan Boldin.

Both of Gabbert's touchdown throws went to Garrett Celek in the first half. The first was a wide-open completion on play-action and the second was a rocket over the middle on a slant route. 

Gabbert briefly left the game in the second half after a helmet-to-helmet hit by former 49ers linebacker Philip Wheeler. Colin Kaepernick replaced him for two plays and attempted one pass, which Garrett Celek couldn't hang on to over the middle.

On the team's next possession with the offense driving into Falcons territory, Gabbert recorded his second interception of the day. Unlike the first pick, however, this one was earned as Gabbert underthrew his receiver.

The signal-caller more than redeemed himself with the game on the line. With the 49ers lead trimmed to one point, Gabbert ran for a first down on 3rd-and-4 on a designed bootleg keeper. The scramble took the clock down to the two-minute warning. San Francisco ran out the rest of the time to seal the win.

Draughn Gets Workhorse Carries

With Pierre Garçon, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis all nursing injuries, many figured Kendall Gaskins and ninth-year veteran Pierre Thomas would receive the bulk of the carries.

As it turned out though, Shaun Draughn led the way as San Francisco's featured 'back.

The 27-year-old who has played for seven different NFL teams amassed 58 yards on 16 carries. His best rep of the afternoon came late in the second quarter, when he bounced off a would-be tackler in the backfield to break free for a 30-yard gain down the right sideline. The run set up a 49ers touchdown.

Gaskins added 20 yards on seven carries and Thomas tacked on 12 yards on four carries.

Spot-starting Cornerbacks Hold Own

San Francisco's running back corps wasn't the only position group decimated by injuries. The 49ers top three cornerbacks were all inactive due to injury (Tramaine Brock, Kenneth Acker and Keithe Reaser).

In their place, Dontae Johnson and Marcus Cromartie got the starts covering the likes of Julio Jones and Roddy White. Chris Davis, promoted from the practice squad on Saturday along with Cromartie, also received significant reps.

Cromartie, who suffered a facial laceration early in the first half, reentered the game and tallied one pass breakup and seven tackles, including two for loss. Johnson recorded six tackles and two pass breakups.

Jones caught 10 passes for 137 yards, but he was targeted 17 total times and 54 of those yards came on one reception. White was held to one catch for 20 yards.

Defense Keeps Freeman in Check

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman entered Sunday as the NFL's leading rusher.

But the 49ers defense limited the marquee runner to just 12 yards on 12 carries. Because San Francisco shut its running attack down, Atlanta was forced to throw the ball 45 times.

NaVorro Bowman made one of the best tackles of the day when he brought down Freeman with one arm for a short gain while being blocked. Bowman later joined Ahmad Brooks and Cromartie as players who recorded tackles for loss on Freeman.

Overall, Sunday's victory marked the defense's most inspired effort since Week 1 versus the Minnesota Vikings.

Golden Nuggets

  • The rotation at right guard continued on Sunday. While Jordan Devey got the start, Andrew Tiller and Erik Pears also split time there. When Pears moved to right guard, rookie Trent Brown came in at right tackle.
  • Phil Dawson hit a 44-yard field goal to extend his streak of made attempts to 14. The kicker's only miss of the season was blocked in the season opener against the Vikings.
  • Aaron Lynch recorded his sixth sack of the season, tying his total from his rookie campaign a year ago.
  • Tony Jerod-Eddie batted down two Matt Ryan passes at the line of scrimmage. Both of the standout defensive plays came on third down.
  • San Francisco's 17 first-half points were the most of any game this season.
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