BALTIMORE — Anyone searching for 49ers highlights from their 23-3 loss in the preseason opener Thursday didn’t have to plunge very deep into the footage.
Colin Kaepernick and the first-team offense rolled 66 yards on the opening drive with Kaepernick hitting tight end Vance McDonald on a 17-yard pass and promising rookie runner Carlos Hyde rumbling for 34 yards. The drive set up an easy Phil Dawson field goal that gave the 49ers a 3-0 lead.
After that? Crickets.
Kaepernick gave way to Blaine Gabbert after the first series. The team’s presumed backup quarterback has been sharp in training-camp practices but struggled in game action, a persistent critique of Gabbert during three tough seasons in Jacksonville.
Gabbert played until halftime, completing three of 11 passes and tossing an interception on an under-thrown pass to tight end Derek Carrier. Gabbert had a 1.7 passer rating when he gave way to Josh Johnson at the start of the third quarter.
Gabbert’s emergence this offseason had led to speculation that the 49ers might allow Kaepernick to run more in 2014, something they were reluctant to do last year when Colt McCoy was the top backup. The 49ers traded a sixth-round draft pick to Jacksonville for Gabbert. He’s scheduled to earn $2 million this season.
Johnson was 7-of-9 for 63 yards but couldn’t get the 49ers into scoring position. Former Sacramento State quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson was 3-of-7 for 26 yards with an interception.
“I think all the quarterbacks — Blaine and Josh and Mac — are coming out of this thinking there are a few (throws) they want back,” Jim Harbaugh said afterward.
“I think they all did about the same. A couple of good throws and runs and extending the play, and a few they’d like to have back, too,” Harbaugh added.
Gabbert had been the presumed No. 2 quarterback, but Harbaugh indicated that the position is murky at this point.