49ers get come-from-behind win in injury-filled preseason opener

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


SANTA CLARA — The 49ers lost four starters and two backups in less than one half of a game that didn’t count.

The 49ers won the game against the Dallas Cowboys 24-21 Thursday night during the preseason opener at Levi’s Stadium. But the win didn’t matter. The injuries did.

Starting defensive end Solomon Thomas injured his head. Starting middle linebacker Malcolm Smith injured his hamstring. Starting outside linebacker Eli Harold injured his lower leg. Starting tight end George Kittle and backup running back Matt Breida injured their shoulders. And backup offensive tackle Garry Gilliam injured his head.

When 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media after the game, he hadn’t yet received the official injury updates from the team’s medical staff. “Off the top of my head, I know Kittle and Breida (will be out) some time,” Shanahan said. “I’d be surprised if they’re around next week. And Solomon Thomas left with concussion symptoms early.”

Thomas’ injury looked the worst. He got hit in the helmet while rushing backup quarterback Cooper Rush with 4:21 left in the first quarter. Thomas fell face down on the grass and lay motionless for a minute. When he got up, he walked straight to the locker room and did not return.

The 49ers drafted Thomas with the third pick in the first round last year. He recorded only three sacks his rookie season, but seemed to improve his pass-rush technique during training camp. Before he injured his head Thursday night, he split a sack with defensive tackle DeForst Buckner. Buckner hit Cowboys starting quarterback Dak Prescott, spun him around and Thomas took him to the ground.

After Thomas left the game, Cassius Marsh replaced him in the starting lineup.

Thomas was the third 49ers player who got injured against Dallas. Smith was the first. He pulled his right hamstring during the Cowboys’ first drive and did not return. Backup Elijah Lee replaced him at middle linebacker. Smith missed all of last season with a chest injury and the first four days of training camp with a heel injury. He hasn’t played a full game since 2016.

Kittle injured his shoulder with 6:34 remaining in the first quarter. He was running deep down the middle of the field and was open when starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw a long pass two steps too far. Kittle dove for the ball, missed and landed on his right shoulder. As he jogged off the field, his arm hung limp at his side. He did not return to the game.

Breida injured himself with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter. He lowered his head to block a blitzing linebacker on third-and-12, and the linebacker hit Breida in the shoulder. He stayed on the ground for a minute, got up and did not return to the game.

The next injury occurred six seconds into the second quarter. That’s when Gilliam took a shot to the helmet. After sitting on the ground for a minute, he stumbled to his feet, walked to the locker room and did not return. Second-year offensive tackle Darrell Williams Jr. replaced Gilliam at left tackle for the second-string offense.

Finally, Harold injured himself covering a punt later in the second quarter.

“This is what scares you about the preseason,” Shanahan said. “You kind of just want the game to end when those things start happening.”

Gilliam’s injury shouldn’t hurt the 49ers — he almost never plays during the regular season. Breida is a key contributor off the bench, but the 49ers have other running backs they like, such as Jerick McKinnon, Raheem Mostert and Joe Williams.

The injuries to the four starters are more concerning. Coming into the game, the 49ers already had four injured starters. Defensive end Arik Armstead and cornerback Richard Sherman pulled their hamstrings in training camp, nickel back K’Waun Williams sprained his ankle and guard Jonathan Cooper is still recovering from offseason MCL surgery.

Now the 49ers have eight injured starters. Not good.

But things seemed bad for the 49ers Thursday night even before players started going down. The starting defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive on the first series of the game. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup, who beat 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward.

When Prescott’s pass was in the air, Ward turned his head to find the ball and stopped running. He never found the ball. Gallup galloped past and caught a wide-open pass in the end zone. The Cowboys took a 7-0 lead.

Then, Garoppolo and the 49ers’ first-string offense took the field.

Garoppolo completed three of six passes for 34 yards and took a big hit from Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. During that play, Lawrence beat 49ers right guard Mike Person, and ran full-speed into Garoppolo’s chest just as Garoppolo released the pass he overthrew to Kittle. The 49ers punted two plays later.

That was the end of Garoppolo’s night. He played only nine snaps. Didn’t need to get him injured, too.


Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens led a six-play, 69-yard come-from-behind game-winning drive, which he capped with a seven-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Richie James. Mullens completed 11 of 13 passes for 141 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 181 yards. He threw an interception to Cowboys backup linebacker Joe Thomas.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine