SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After getting his first repetitions with the offense and not just the scout team in practice last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Christian Ponder was on the active 46-man roster for the first time this season Sunday in Atlanta.
It wasn't a surprise that Ponder was the backup to Colin Kaepernick in a season during which he's been the only of the team's three quarterbacks not to get an opportunity to play in coach Chip Kelly's offense. When Ponder began getting more than scout team work, it was a clear signal he was going to get a chance to be active sooner rather than later.
So, with three games left in the season at the time of his promotion to above Blaine Gabbert on the depth chart, why now?
"Because we’ve seen him in practice do some really good things and earn a spot," Kelly said. "It’s got nothing to do with Kap. I thought Kap played well [against Atlanta]. It’s just that [Ponder] earned the spot as the No. 2. I think he and Blaine are battling. Blaine’s been great, and I think both of those guys can play, but you can only dress two right now. We may dress three next week because we won’t have enough [players] to dress."
Ponder was active but did not play in the Niners' 41-13 loss to the Falcons. Kaepernick was 20-of-33 for 183 yards with two touchdowns, for a passer rating of 95.9. He also had three carries for 21 yards.
But even with the game out of reach late, Kelly stuck with Kaepernick rather than giving Ponder his first chance to play in a game since the preseason.
“No, we are trying to win football games," Kelly said. "This isn’t open tryouts right now.”
It still stands to reason that Kelly would want to get a look at Ponder over the final two weeks, if only because Ponder is a free agent -- like Kaepernick and Gabbert -- after the season. It would be worthwhile to figure out how he might fit moving forward.