To say the least, these have been turbulent times for a 49ers team fraught with change on and off the field.
But to understand just how mixed up their season has been, consider this: For all their problems, the 49ers will have the same 4-6 record as the defending NFC champions if they somehow beat the Seahawks in Seattle today. That would put them on a lengthy list of teams with faint hopes for a wild-card playoff spot.
As crazy as that possibility sounds, it’s no more unthinkable than the thought of quarterback Blaine Gabbert as a starter in Week 11 of the season. After three years of disappointment with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he threw all of seven passes in his 49ers debut a year ago.
Only months later, the 26-year-old Gabbert may have as much at stake as anyone on the field this afternoon. In his first start in more than two years, he passed for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 17-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons before the bye week.
“He knows what happened in Jacksonville,” offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said. “I think that, deep down, he believes he can play better football than what he played in Jacksonville. What he did against Atlanta validates his point.”
Even in the unlikely event that Colin Kaepernick returns next season, the offense figures to have a need for a veteran backup, preferably one who knows the system. If Gabbert continues to hold his own under difficult circumstances, he may warrant an extended look in the final weeks of the season, one that could even put him in position to compete for the full-time starter role next summer.
“A great opportunity,” Gabbert called it. “I wouldn’t approach it any other way, but it’s a great opportunity to go out there and start again this week and play football. And I don’t take those opportunities for granted, and I’m going to enjoy them.”
Gabbert and company have no small challenge ahead. Not only are the Seahawks a desperate team themselves — they blew a fourth-quarter lead in every one of their losses — but CenturyLink Field has long been among the loudest and most difficult road venues in the league.
“We need all 46 [players] to go up against them,” Chryst said. “They’re a good defense. They’re a good team. And it’s still a great environment. I love the stadium. I love the setting downtown. It’s a fun place to play, and for guys that haven’t played there before, they’re going to enjoy the experience.”
To compound matters, leading rusher Carlos Hyde did not accompany the team on the trip. He will sit out a third consecutive game because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (hamstring) took part in limited drills and should be available.
Coach Jim Tomsula had been somewhat optimistic that Hyde would be able to practice this week. Whether he experienced a setback was unclear, but his return never materialized.
Shaun Draughn, Kendall Gaskins and Travaris Cadet will split the load in the backfield. Only Gaskins among them was on the roster as recently as three weeks ago. Coupled with the crowd noise, their limited practice time could make blitz pick-ups more difficult to execute than normal.
“It’s going to be loud. We know that,” Gabbert said. “At the same time, we have a job to do. We have to work around that and just really focus on that task at hand. In these kinds of stadiums, where it it is extremely loud, you really have to focus one play at a time. Because if you don’t hear a call, you don’t hear the play, one or two guys aren’t going to be on the same page, and that’s the difference between winning and losing games.”
Now Gabbert is in position to quiet the noise in more ways than one.