SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The newly installed sod at $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium held up well enough, even if it caused San Francisco 49ers place-kicker Phil Dawson to slip on a successful PAT and the kicker to give the grass the evil eye in the second quarter.
What else was learned in the all-important third preseason game? For one, the 49ers’ backups are better than the Chargers’, though the same could be said of the Chargers’ starters over the Niners’.
Dawson’s 39-yard field goal in the second quarter ended the 49ers’ scoreless streak at eight quarters and 23 possessions and got San Francisco within 7-3.
The 49ers’ first-string offense has yet to score a touchdown in the preseason, and the left side of their offensive line, the side with mainstays Joe Staley and Mike Iupati, was especially manhandled by Corey Liuget. You would have thought that the reimagined right side, with tackle Jonathan Martin, in place of Anthony Davis, and guard Joe Looney, replacing holdout Alex Boone, would have had trouble holding up. It is worth mentioning, though, that Adam Snyder got some reps with the starters, taking the place of Looney in the second quarter.
Colin Kaepernick just does not look comfortable. The quarterback spoke this week of the need to establish a rhythm, and this is how things started for the offense -- a 2-yard loss by running back Frank Gore, an overthrow by Kaepernick, a scramble and fumble that was ruled not a fumble because there was not visual evidence to prove who actually recovered the ball. Kapernick took at least four hard hits and would eventually lose a fumble. And while he did finally find a rhythm in the second quarter, completing five straight passes in one series, he had consecutive passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in the red zone. Too soon to worry? Well, Kaepernick has yet to lead the 49ers on a touchdown drive in 24 preseason possessions. He finished 6-of-12 for 59 yards with two rushes for 13 yards.
Let the record show, it was Blaine Gabbert who led the first 49ers' touchdown drive in Levi's Stadium history. Sure, it’s the preseason and “officially” said first TD has yet to occur, but the maligned Gabbert hit tight end Vance McDonald with a 6-yard touchown pass with 46 seconds to go until halftime. It was also the first TD of the preseason by the 49ers, who had been oustcored by a combined 64-0 after an opening series field goal at Baltimore and Phil Dawson’s 39-yard field goal in the second quarter. Gabbert, who struggled mightily in his first two appearances, looked steady in completing 7 of 11 passes for 66 yards and the TD.
The 49ers' starting defense got a lift when inside linebacker Patrick Willis made his preseason debut and started. Bothered by a stinger in camp and wearing the blue non-contact jersey most days, Willis combined on a nice tackle of Ryan Mathews with Michael Wilhoite at the 49ers’ 5-yard line for no gain and fourth-and-1.The play also highlighted Wilhoite, who is trying to make his case to start until NaVorro Bowman returns from his knee injury around midseason.
Still, the 49ers’ first-team defense was shredded by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who completed 9 of 10 passes for 85 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, who caught three passes for 28 yards. A highlight for the 49ers’ first-round draft pick, defensive back Jimmie Ward, was his acrobatic interception of Chargers third-string quarterback Brad Sorensen late in the third quarter.