The 49ers finally got off the schneid on Sunday, as they scored their first offensive touchdown, and managed their first win of the preseason. The 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 21-7, thanks almost entirely to some strong work from backup offensive players.
The biggest news was a late injury to rookie lineman Marcus Martin. The 49ers had him in the game at center in the fourth quarter, and he was rolled up from behind. He was ruled out with a knee injury, and we await word on the severity of the injury. Will Tukuafu (concussion) and Bubba Ventrone (hamstring) both left with injuries as well.
The big concern on the day prior to the Martin injury was the performance of the first string offense. The run game showed a few things, with Carlos Hyde looking sharp, but the passing game struggled again. Colin Kaepernick was 6 of 12 for 59 yards, with 49 of those yards coming on the second quarter drive that resulted in a field goal. The bigger concern on this day was the poor play of the offensive line. Kap took a bit of a beating back there throughout his two quarters of play. Mike Iupati in particularly looked abysmal on the day. The right side of the line was not great, but Looney was definitely better than Iupati on the day.
Of course, then the second string offense came in and managed to get the 49ers first touchdown of the preseason. It was mostly second string, but Blaine Gabbert was able to get some protection from Mike Iupati and Joe Looney at the two guard positions. Iupati and Looney both improved at that point, although facing second string defensive players probably helped.
Gabbert was 1 for 2 for 5 yards on his first drive, but on his second drive we saw a very solid effort. Gabbert was 5 of 6 for 58 yards and a touchdown, connecting on a nice little pass to Vance McDonald to cap the drive. It was only one drive, so we won't get ahead of ourselves, but it was an important drive. Gabbert showed the things he can do well, and showed why he could potentially be a capable backup. The 49ers travel to face the Houston Texans on Thursday to wrap up the preseason. Does Colin Kaepernick get a decent amount of playing time, or do we get more of the Blaine Gabbert show?
The big story for the 49ers defense was getting several starters back in the lineup. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Patrick Willis, and Tramaine Brock all returned to game action. The unit was down Antoine Bethea as he recovers from a concussion. The unit gave up a first down on the first drive, but then forced a punt. The following drive, the 49ers got a stop on 3rd and 3, and then followed it with a stop on 4th and 1.
The third drive saw the 49ers give up a touchdown to Philip Rivers, on a pass to Antonio Gates over the middle. Craig Dahl looked a little confused on the play, as though he expected some inside help. The drive as a whole saw Michael Wilhoite struggle a bit in coverage. That is something that will be key this year. NaVorro Bowman was strong in coverage, and that more than anything is what needs to be replaced in the short term.
If we were to pick a "reserve of the game", Aaron Lynch would get a vote. He had at least three tipped passes that I saw, one of which led to a Jimmie Ward interception. Joe Buck was highly complimentary of Lynch. While Lynch deserved it for his play, it was still interesting considering he was a 5th round pick. I'm guessing he got a tip on Lynch and likes what he sees.
The rookies generally played well as a whole. Carlos Hyde had several very solid runs. Lynch had the tipped passes, and Ward the interception. Linebacker Chris Borland put on a bit of a show as well. He is like a missile the way he attacks on his tackles. I still think he remains behind Michael Wilhoite, but he could be a huge option on special teams, and also a guy who can spell the inside linebackers.
And one story to wrap up for now is the turf issue. The big story leading up to the game was the turf problems at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers replaced a sizable chunk of the turf earlier this week. The field did not look particularly great, but there were not a ton of problems. On the 49ers side of things, LaMichael James had the most problems, slipping several times on returns. Other than that, while the grass was coming up at times, it could have been a lot worse.
The 49ers now prepare for Tuesday's roster cuts, and then their preseason finale at the Houston Texans.