SANTA CLARA — On a glorious sunny day, in the newest facility in professional sports, the 49ers played a game worthy of the most dismal recesses of Candlestick Park.
Outperformed in every phase of the game, Jim Harbaugh’s team christened Levi’s Stadium with a 34-0 preseason drubbing at the hands of the visiting Denver Broncos. The 49ers made one final attempt to crack the scoreboard in the closing moments, but running back Jewel Hampton was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 15 seconds left, handing San Francisco its first preseason shutout since 1990, and its first at home since 1977.
“I didn’t think we executed well enough in any area today,” Harbaugh said afterward, in the spacious “auditorium” that has replaced Candlestick’s cramped interview room. “. . . We’ve gotta get better. This is gonna be an important week for us.”
The 49ers look like a shell of the team that made it to the NFC championship game last year, having lost 23-3 at Baltimore in the first exhibition game. The question is whether you can draw any inferences from a couple of preseason games. Even running back Frank Gore, the Niners’ resident mystic, seemed torn on the question.
Asked whether he gets concerned about poor results in August, Gore replied: “You can’t really, because it really . . . ”
Then he caught himself.
“Well,” Gore continued, “it depends what you look at. We haven’t scored a touchdown last two games. You look at that, that’s a negative. But it’s a positive that the starters are not really out there. Three plays here, three plays there. You’re not gonna look as you should look as a team. But when we’re practicing we look fine. We know what each guy can do once the season starts.”
To be fair to the 49ers, Gore — the 49ers’ workhorse for close to a decade — carried the ball just twice. Starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis were on the field for a couple possessions. The defense was without stalwarts like linebacker Patrick Willis, defensive lineman Justin Smith, defensive end Ray McDonald, cornerback Tramaine Brock and linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who is expected to miss half the regular season with a knee injury. The offensive line was missing right tackle Anthony Davis.
So yes, maybe the proper grade for the 49ers in this game would be an “incomplete.” That would be generous, because it would be hard to give them a letter grade higher than an F.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was at his manic, cerebral best piloting the fast-paced Denver offense. He completed 12 of 14 passes for 102 yards and led the Broncos to a 10-0 lead, hitting tight end Julius Thomas with a 17-yard touchdown pass behind frustrated-looking safety Craig Dahl.
Then Manning headed to the sidelines — and the Broncos’ offensive attack barely skipped a beat. Second-teamer Brock Osweiler was 10 of 13 for 105 yards and a touchdown. Third-teamer Zac Dysert was 8 of 11 for 63 yards and a touchdown. All three combined for a passer rating of 122.6. They were rarely touched, and their receivers found plenty of open turf against the San Francisco secondary.
Kaepernick just missed wide receiver Brandon Lloyd on a deep pass into the end zone — it looked like Lloyd failed to adjust to the ball in flight — and otherwise didn’t accomplish much of anything. He finished 5 of 9 for 39 yards and left after two possessions.