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Silver linings in the 49ers’ comeback win over the Cowboys

Finding positives in an ugly 49ers’ win on Thursday.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

While San Francisco 49ers’ football was officially back on Thursday, the first quarter was as bad as Kyle Shanahan could have dreamed of. QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the first-team offense struggled to move the ball in their opening drive. The starting defense got shredded as Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott marched down the field for a touchdown.

Oh it doesn’t stop there. 49ers’ players kept getting hurt during the opening quarter. Starting LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring), TE George Kittle (shoulder), DL Solomon Thomas (head), OL Garry Gilliam (head) and RB Matt Breida (shoulder) were all dinged up early in Thursday’s matchup. Coming out of a preseason game healthy is a major victory in itself, so I’m sure that’s what concerns Shanahan the most on Friday morning.

Despite the poor start and injuries to numerous starters, the 49ers still managed to excite the fans with a fourth-quarter comeback win, led by QB Nick Mullens. Since it was not an ideal performance, let’s take a look at some of the silver linings from the 49ers’ preseason opener.

WR Richie James’ standout performance

The 49ers’ young receivers are all competing in the preseason for the final spots on the 53-man roster. While WR Dante Pettis should be safe based on his draft position, WRs Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, Aaron Burbridge, and Aldrick Robinson are going to be battling for the last one or two spots.

Based on Thursday’s performance, the seventh-round rookie James should be thrilled with his chances. The ex-Middle Tennessee State star was targeted five times on Thursday, hauling in four of those passes for 46 yards.

The most important play of his short career might have been the game-winning touchdown from QB Nick Mullens. James has had a solid camp thus far, and backed up all the hype during the opening game.

Is QB Nick Mullens pushing C.J. Beathard?

QB C.J. Beathard took over for Garoppolo when he went to the bench after one series. Watching the ex-Hawkeye with a combination of starters and rookies brought back major post-traumatic stress disorder from early 2017, when San Francisco could not do anything on offense.

Beathard continued to struggle in Thursday night’s showdown, missing numerous open receivers, throwing an interception and finishing with a 60.6 passer rating. In Beathard’s six drives, the 49ers scored 10 points and turned it over once. The drives went Punt, Interception, Punt, Touchdown, Field Goal and Punt.

While the 49ers’ second-string quarterback looked awful on Thursday, QB Nick Mullens introduced himself to the majority of the fanbase. Mullens finished the game 11-of-13 for 141 yards and leading the offense in a game-winning drive. He looked the most confident of the three 49ers’ signal callers and finished with the best stat line.

DL Jullian Taylor might be another seventh-round gem

Last year it was S Adrian Colbert, this year it’s likely going to be DL Jullian Taylor. The 49ers’ defensive line was missing starter Arik Armstead — who’s hurt again (hamstring) — but the defense didn’t seem to miss him at all.

The ex-Temple star has stepped in and was making a significant impact right from the get-go. Taylor had three tackles, two quarterback hits and a sack that allowed the 49ers to get back on offense for their game-winning drive.

Shanahan and the 49ers’ coaching staff continues to be really impressed with the 49ers’ Day 3 selection, adding, “I saw him make a bunch of plays. He’s done a good job for us in camp and it looked like he showed up tonight.” in the post-game presser.

Taylor started the game alongside the first-team defense and played the entire game. His early effectiveness against Cowboys’ OL Chaz Green showed why he deserves playing time to start the season.