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.
San Francisco 49ers vs. San Diego Chargers
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.