After fast start, San Francisco 49ers offense stuck in neutral

Matthew Stafford, DuJuan Harris earn game balls (1:08)

Matthew Stafford threw for 301 yards and had a pair of touchdowns while DuJuan Harris gained 73 yards to earn game ball honors. (1:08)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Blaine Gabbert may have shown that he is more than capable of being a “bridge” quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers these past seven games.

That is, if coach Jim Tomsula and his staff survive this offseason and the Niners indeed part ways with Colin Kaepernick.

But what neither Gabbert nor the Niners have proved is that they can put a complete game together. They certainly didn't in Sunday’s 32-17 loss at the Detroit Lions that dropped the 49ers to a ghastly 4-11.

“We proved to ourselves that we can start fast but the biggest thing is we’ve got to execute better in the second half and continue to fight,” Gabbert said. “We have one game left. We’re not going to the playoffs but what we’re looking forward (to) as a team is continuing to get better, day in and day out, and go get a win next week.”

But before we get into the St. Louis Rams and the season finale at Levi’s Stadium in six days, it’s important to note how the Niners flipped the script in Detroit -- to no avail.

Because while the narrative, especially since Gabbert took over from Kaepernick in Week 9, has been one of the offense trudging through the mud in the first half before coming to life in -- for lack of a better term -- garbage time, the Niners started out hot against the Lions.

Or do two touchdown drives totaling 162 yards and 18 plays in their first three possessions not strike your fancy?

Maybe the 40-yard field goal by Phil Dawson two possessions later to tie the score at 17-17 with 35 seconds remaining in the first half gave you hope, then?

Alas, as quickly as the Niners offense started, it also fizzled out.

“I thought we came off the bus and I thought the team started fast today and I thought we were doing that and getting going,” Tomsula said. “Going into halftime, [I] felt good about where we were, other than those offside penalties.”

Well, yeah, there was that little inconvenient truth. The Niners were the first team since the 1993 Houston Oilers to have six offside/neutral zone penalties in the first half of a game. They added a seventh after halftime.

“But second half,” Tomsula said, “we’ve got to keep that ramping and missed tackles started creeping in there and we can’t have it.”

The Niners couldn't afford for its offense to slow to a halt.

“Yeah, I thought we were coming back out the second half and do the same thing,” said receiver Anquan Boldin, who became the 13th member of the NFL’s 1,000 catch club with his first reception of the day. “We moved the ball well the first half. The second half? I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”

And if that sounds like an indictment of offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, well, consider this: After racking up 265 yards of total offense in the first half, including 122 yards on the ground with a career-high 74 yards on nine carries by new running back DuJuan Harris, the Niners had just 57 yards of offense in the second half. Their record low for a half, since records started being kept in 1991, was 35 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in 2006.

Harris, who was on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad on Monday, carried the ball twice after halftime and lost a yard.

“DuJuan’s been here a week,” Tomsula said. “So, teaching the pass protections to a running back in a week is a big deal.”

Too big, apparently, to keep him in a game in which the Niners fell behind and had to rely on the pass.

“Like I’ve said, there’s no moral victories in the National Football League,” said Gabbert, who nonetheless had his first 100-plus passer rating since Oct. 21, 2012 by completing 22 of 33 passes for 225 yards and two TDs for a 106.3 rating.

“We’ve got to find a way to get wins. Plain and simple.”

Finding a complete game is a step in that direction. Yes, with one game left on the schedule.