SANTA CLARA -- Jim Tomsula decided not to answer the question that has only one answer – namely, whether Blaine Gabbert did enough Sunday to maintain the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback job.
Namely, because that isn’t the way to word the question. The way to word the question is, “Can you seriously entertain not starting him based of nothing else on the fact that he failed to fail?”
Because that much is undoubtedly true. Gabbert’s modest numbers (15 of 25, 185, two scores two picks, 76.2 rating) were still more impressive than Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn’s repeatedly refusals to take the strategic and tactical initiatives against a reeling and battered 49er team.
And in truth, both were less impressive than the 49er defense which eradicated the NFL’s second leading rusher, Devonta Freeman, and reduced the Falcons to a uni-dimensional operation whose head coach and offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) didn’t trust the dimension it did have.
But Quinn’s failures of nerve are Atlanta’s to chew over. The fulcrum of reportorial peevishness for the next two weeks (or until Tomsula tells us with his words what we already know with our minds) is whether Gabbert is the 49ers’ starting quarterback for the Seattle game November 22. He is. He will be. That’s as done as a deal can be did.
But even if you believe there is something to salvage from this season, Gabbert isn’t the place to look anyway. The 49er defense won this game even more than Quinn chose not to, mostly due to its repeated ability to hold the edge against Freeman, who averaged one yard for each of his 12 carries, while preventing him from gashing the gaps between the tackles.
In addition, the tattered secondary held quarterback Matt Ryan to 303 yards of mostly empty calories (one touchdown) and superb wide receiver Julio Jones to fantasy rather than actual points.
Look, let’s just say it. The 49er defense, (19th in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed and 28th in passing yards allowed per game), stopped the Falcons offense (fifth in yards, ninth in points, second in possession time) sufficiently to bamboozle Quinn into kicking a field goal despite having Freeman, Ryan and Jones, not to mention other weapons, with one play from one-and-a-half yards out with 2:56 to play.
You can scheme and lock down and jargon all you want, but that is why the 49ers arrested, at least momentarily, their freefall of a season.
It wasn’t enough, mind you, to free Tomsula’s tongue, which fixated Sunday on nine different ways to say, “We have a lot of work to do.” Tomsula’s discomfort in pressers has returned as he has learned how much even a cheery “Hello, fellas” can be parsed, and his reluctance to name Gabbert as his man for the Seahawks is much less about gamesmanship than it is mere hypercaution.
If he says, “Yeah, obviously he’s the guy,” that brings out a whole new round of Colin Kaepernick’s demise stories. If he says, “I’m not convinced,” that brings out a whole new round of Colin Kaepernick may still be resuscitated stories. And if he remains noncommittal for very long, that brings out a whole new round of who’s-in-charge-here stories.
In other words, he has now been given his first 49er coaching midterm exam, with the trick question that has only one real answer that will change the talking points.
The middle finger of his right hand.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Gabbert in control, guides 49ers past Falcons]
True, that change ends up being a whole new round of “Has Jim Tomsula let the pressure get to him?” stories, and the moment’s satisfaction he would realize from going digital would fade quickly.
So it is no wonder that he couldn’t bear to bring himself to take a big exhale after a game he and his team badly needed to win just to relieve the sound of hammers in their heads. Indeed, his first words in response to the first question, which was also a who’s-your-starting-quarterback question, the defining question of his entire head coaching career, was “Right out of the gate.”
Yep, that’s right, ‘Sules. Right out of the gate, and standing in your way no matter which way you try to go. This is your world now, and as much as it may suck your will to speak publicly ever again, you’ll have to learn to dress for it. You have been given the worst thing a 49er coach can have, a quarterback controversy, which is a little like leaning too close to a wormhole. You can either find a sure Hall of Famer, or you slowly watch your molecules being stretched.
Frankly, were I you, I think I’d pour myself a hefty glass of Rag Top Red, close your eyes and take a load off. The peace and quiet of the bye week may be brief, but it sure beats all the miserable public alternatives.