SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Dan Quinn had his plan. Rather than go for the lead on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Atlanta would kick a field goal, stop San Francisco on defense, then drive down and win the game at the end.
Except it didn't work.
The Falcons flopped against a patchwork opponent with new faces all over the field, losing consecutive games for the first time all season in Sunday's 17-16 defeat to the 49ers.
"That was my goal for how it would go down, but it we didn't execute it that way," said Quinn, Atlanta's first-year coach. "It's certainly disappointing any time you have back-to-back losses. When we're not playing at our best, it makes it tough on us, and we didn't play as well as we're capable today."
Matt Ryan had some impressive stretches against a high-flying San Francisco defense, but missed key chances, too, as Atlanta lost for the third time in four games following a 5-0 start.
Blaine Gabbert threw an interception midway through the fourth quarter, giving Atlanta (6-3) another chance with 7:14 to go. After an incompletion, Ryan hit six straight throws, but eventually missed Julio Jones in the end zone. And Atlanta kicked the field goal and fell just short.
"Our defense allowed just 17 points. When that happens, we expect to win," receiver Roddy White said. "When Vic (Beasley) picked off that ball, I definitely thought the game was over and it would be a game-changer. We were going to go down and score a touchdown. There were some good play calls, but we just couldn't get it in. We had three downs from the 4-yard line. We have to punch it in there."
Gabbert of all people gave the Niners (3-6) a big lift in a lost season, throwing a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Celek to get undermanned San Francisco back in the win column.
A first-round bust in Jacksonville, Gabbert made his first start in more than two years and exhibited the poise and production demoted starter Kaepernick lacked all year.
Ryan went 30 of 45 for 303 yards with a touchdown, two sacks and no interceptions. Jones had 10 catches for 137 yards, and his 18-yard reception in the third put him over 1,000 yards for the second straight season. But the Falcons lost for the
Ryan completed a 54-yard pass to wide-open Jones late in the first half, then Devonta Freeman caught a 17-yard score two plays later to pull Atlanta within 17-13 at halftime. Ryan completed all three passes that drive.
If only he could have done the same down the stretch. Ryan didn't question the call by Quinn.
"He was confident our defense would get the stop. I felt like we were going to have a chance to go down the field and get the field goal to win," Ryan said. "That's part of the game, but everyone in this organization and in that locker room has Q's back. We believed in the decision at the time and we thought our defense was going to get it done.
"But from an offensive perspective we had three opportunities to punch it in before that. That's where we've got to get it done."
Making his first start since Week 5 of 2013 for the Jaguars, Gabbert didn't take a sack as he was able to quickly get the ball out behind an offensive line that has faced heavy scrutiny all year.
Celek made TD catches of 1 and 11 yards to give him three on the year. With a rash of injuries, it sure seemed the reeling 49ers were at a bigger disadvantage than the 4 1/2-point underdogs they were to begin the week, when tight end Vernon Davis got traded to Denver.
Kaepernick watched it all from the sideline until he was needed early in the fourth quarter for two plays that gained no yards. Gabbert took a hard blow to the head from linebacker Philip Wheeler and came out to be checked for a concussion.
Atlanta, the losingest team ever at San Francisco's former home of Candlestick Park, didn't fare much better in its first visit to second-year, $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium — which was only about two-thirds full given the combination of a struggling team and early rain.
NOTES: Falcons rookie wideout Justin Hardy was active for the second straight week and made four catches for 17 yards in place of Leonard Hankerson, inactive because of a hamstring injury. ... Freeman wound up with eight catches for 67 yards and Jacob Tamme six receptions for 61 yards. ... Atlanta NT Paul Soliai suffered a head injury and S Robenson Therezie injured a hamstring late in the first quarter and didn't return.