LEVI’S STADIUM — It took six quarters of play and a complete turf replacement, but the 49ers finally did what they had previously failed to achieve in their new stadium: Score.
Strong contributions from new additions led the San Francisco 49ers to their first win at their brand-new home, beating the San Diego Chargers 21-7 Sunday afternoon.
After a 12-play drive stalled short of the goal line in the second quarter, kicker Phil Dawson — who had missed two attempts during the 49ers home opener against the Denver Broncos — converted a 39-yard field goal in the for the first 49ers’ points in their new stadium.
The field goal broke the scoring seal for the 49ers, who went on to score their first touchdown of the preseason later in the quarter, albeit from an unlikely source.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert — whose preseason thus far could be described as shaky, at best — strung together a masterful scoring drive, completing 5-of-6 passes during a 10-play, 68-yard drive that Gabbert capped with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald for a 10-7 lead.
Until that point, the 49ers had looked poised for yet another disappointing offensive day. Starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick played a preseason-high four drives yet struggled in the passing game while taking a beating from San Diego’s defensive line.
Gabbert’s finished the game as the 49ers most productive quarterback, completing 7-for-11 passes for 66 yards and one touchdown.
After a pair of terrible outings, Gabbert admitted he felt pressure to perform:
“If anything I apply pressure to myself and that’s just to go out there and get better. We wanted to put some drives together. I wish we would have scored on a couple other drives I was in there on, but we’ll look at the tape and learn from those mistakes we had.”
Kaepernick completed 6-of-12 passes on the day for 59 yards with two fumbles and one turnover. However, Kaepernick’s struggles could be attributed to the offensive line’s woes during pass protection against San Diego’s first string defense.
Guard Mike Iupati struggled mightily matched up against Chargers’ DE Corey Liuget, who terrorized Kaepernick during his offensive sets. Liuget laid four big hits and one sack on Kaepernick throughout the day, two for losses.
Kaepernick was reserved in his comments regarding his rough day in the pocket:
“To me it’s football. You’re going to get hit.”
Kaepernick told reporters his struggles came from lack of execution across the offensive unit. Though he admitted his team’s play was below his expectations for the third preseason game, he provided the same stereotypical as many fans following the team’s first two losses:
Likewise, Harbaugh wasn’t concerned over what he saw from established veterans on the left side of the offensive line, but noted that they could improve in their play following today’s game:
“Go to work on that. Got to be good in that area.”
While veterans struggled, rookies Bruce Ellington and Carlos Hyde continued to shine. Hyde leads the team in preseason rushing with 88 yards and continued to look good, showing bursts of speed while flashing outside and running with power up the middle.
Ellington leads the team in the receiving, and pulled down a pair of receptions for 27 yards, the second most on the day behind Vance McDonald, whose three catches for 29 yards and one touchdown led all receivers.
The 49ers’ projected first string defense was on display today as starters Justin Smith, Ian Williams, Ray McDonald and Patrick Willis took to the field for the first time as a group during a preseason game.
The group failed to harass Philip Rivers or his passing game, as the San Diego quarterback finished his day after completing 9-of-10 passes for 85 yards and one touchdown.
McDonald spoke about the first team’s efforts following the game:
“I think we did okay. We’ve got some things we’ve got to clean up. That’s what game planning does. We didn’t really game plan or blitz this week, but in the future we will.”
Much like the offense, a pair of rookies stood out on the defensive side of the ball.
First-round pick Jimmy Ward continued to show promise as the team’s nickel cornerback with yet another impressive day of coverage.
Ward’s efforts were rewarded in the third quarter as he recorded his first NFL interception after catching a pass from quarterback Brad Sorensen that was tipped by OLB Aaron Lynch at the line.
Ward’s interception was made possible by Lynch’s tenacity at the line. The rookie out of South Florida looked strong in the pass rush today, showing athleticism and strength while recording one sack and two deflections.
Lynch has bulked up in size since joining the 49ers, and has looked like a possible late-round steal amid character concerns. Harbaugh spoke about his play after the game:
“He’s playing strong and he’s coming along, coming along pretty darn good. Just making improvements every day, really. He’s learning and he’s listening, so, that’s really encouraging. Got high hopes for him.”
The offensive play of the day came from undrafted free agent rookie Glenn Winston, whom the 49ers signed to a three-year deal following Kendall Hunter’s injury.
The running back broke through the middle of the field for a 26-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, giving the 49ers their final score en route to their first preseason win of 2014.
The 49ers play their final preseason game Thursday in Houston against the Texans. The regular season begins Sunday, Sept. 7 at 1:25 p.m. when San Francisco visits the Dallas Cowboys.