SANTA CLARA – The 49ers finally found the end zone in this 2014 preseason, and they finished Sunday afternoon by beating the visiting San Diego Chargers 21-7 at Levi’s Stadium.
So why didn’t it feel like a decisive victory?
Perhaps because the 49ers’ first-teamers (for the most part) were outgained by the Chargers’ first-teamers (for the most part), 121 yards to 69 yards, and were outscored 7-3. And because the starting offense, led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, still has not scored a touchdown this year. And because two weeks before the start of the regular season, the offensive line looks ragged. And because San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 90 percent of his passes.
OK, let’s give the Niners their due. They won this game, and they did some good things to seal that achievement.
“It feels great to get a win,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit. But like I said, I like to stay optimistic about everything. And I think we have a pretty good chance.”
Backup 49ers running back Carlos Hyde looked sharp, especially on a 20-yard burst in the second quarter. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a target of derision after the first two weeks of the preseason, was much more effective against the Chargers; he completed 7 of 11 passes for 66 yards and capped a long drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald. The first-team defense stopped the Chargers on a fourth-and-1 play from the San Francisco 5-yard line, and the defensive reserves were consistently stout. Plus, kicker Phil Dawson nailed both of his field-goal attempts after going 0 for 2 against the Broncos a week earlier.
McDonald’s touchdown gave the 49ers a 10-7 lead just before halftime, and they padded it to 13-7 on Dawson’s 28-yard kick at the start of the fourth quarter. Rookie Glenn Winston scored on a 27-yard run with 10:34 to play, and the Niners added a 2-point conversion on Josh Johnson’s pass to Lance Lewis.
The defense snuffed out the Chargers’ final thrust inside of the 2-minute warning when cornerback Darryl Morris intercepted a pass by San Diego backup quarterback Brad Sorensen.
But this being the third preseason game – the one in which the starters tend to see more extensive action – most of the attention was on the first units. And those units were decidedly meh.
Rivers carved up the 49ers secondary a bit – particularly strong safety Craig Dahl, who was filling in for the injured Antoine Bethea (concussion) – and the tackling was inconsistent. Linebacker Aldon Smith let a couple Chargers squirm away.
Most troubling by far, though, was the performance of the Niners’ offensive line. Considered one of the team’s strengths over the past couple years, the front wall seems to be in desperate need of patching.
That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider that untested Daniel Kilgore has taken over at center, castoff Jonathan Martin is playing in place of injured Anthony Davis at right tackle and young Joe Looney is manning right guard instead of Alex Boone, who is holding out in a contract dispute.
But the 49ers’ troubles didn’t necessarily come at those spots. It was the left side of the line that did most of the leaking Sunday. Left guard Mike Iupati, a Pro Bowl pick the past two seasons, was thoroughly abused by the Chargers.
Luther Burbank Rose Parade winners
Antique or classic auto; Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
Band, elementary school: Rincon Valley Royals
Band, middle school: Hillcrest Middle School
Band, high school: Rancho Cotate High School
Band, out of county high school: Compton High School
Band, non-school: The Remedies, presented by Sutter Health
Color guard, adult: Santa Rosa Police Department
Costume group, adult: Dan Gighaus Elvis impersonator
Costume group, youth: Franklin Park Co-Op Preschool
Cultural dance: Cesar Chavez Ballet Folklorico
Cultural, other display: Sons of Italy
Costume heritage: Santa Rosa Rural Cemetary
Drill team, elementary: Strawberry School
Drill team, high school: Montgomery High School
Drum major, elementary: Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School
Drum major, middle school: Rincon Valley Charter
Drum major, high school: Elsie Allen High School
Flag team, elementary: Hidden Valley Elementary
Flag team, middle school: Hillcrest Middle School
Flag team, high school: Rancho Cotate High School
Float, commercial: Friedman's Home Improvement
Float, nonprofit: Sonoma County Fair
Mace drum major, high school: Rancho Cotate High School
Military or veterans group: Marine Corps League Det. 686
Mounted authentic novelty: The Mask of Zorro
Mounted group: Rancho La Potranca/Ignacio Manzo
Pooper scooper: The Mask of Zorro
Novelty group, commercial: Santa Rosa Gymnastics Center
Novelty group, nonprofit: Sonoma County Library
Unit ID, elementary: Hidden Valley Elementary
Unit ID, middle school: Hillcrest Middle School
Unit ID, high school: Rancho Cotate High School
Henry Trione Award: Best Overall Equestrian Entry: The Mask of Zorro
Best Tribute to Luther Burbank: Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
Best Use of Color: Cesar Chavez Language Academy & Ballet Folklorico
Best Use of Roses: LandPaths
Best Use of Theme: Friedman's Home Improvement
Thomas P Keegan Award: Best Entry Using Local History: Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Sweepstakes Award, Best Unit in the Parade: Sonoma County Fair
John Bugbee Memorial Perpetual Trophy, best county high school entry: Rancho Cotate High School