The stadium looked immaculate. The on-field result wasn’t quite as nice.
The San Francisco 49ers opened up preseason play at Levi’s® Stadium with a 34-0 loss to the Denver Broncos.
"I didn’t think we executed well enough in any area today," Jim Harbaugh said after his team dropped to 0-2 in the preseason.
Several key veterans did not suit up for San Francisco. Among them, defensive linemen Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ian Williams did not play, but they do figure to be the team’s Week 1 starters on the defensive line. Elsewhere on defense, starting inside linebacker Patrick Willis was held out of the game for a second consecutive week with an undisclosed injury.
After the 60-minute contest, we put together some key notes from the preseason matchup, starting with a summary of Colin Kaepernick and the first-team offense’s outing.
Short Work for First-team Offense
Kaepernick saw the field for two drives against the Denver Broncos. His 37-yard deep for Brandon Lloyd sailed past the veteran receiver at the goal line. That was the closest the 49ers would get to scoring a touchdown. Lloyd was the third receiver to see the field.
Michael Crabtree returned to preseason action, starting alongside Anquan Boldin at wide receiver. Frank Gore also made his preseason debut. Gore carried the ball two times for 12 yards, including a 9-yard carry on the opening drive.
Kaepernick finished the game 5-of-9 for 39 passing yards. San Francisco picked up five first downs with Kaepernick in the game and drove in Denver territory on both possessions, but the first offensive unit did not score any points.
"It’s off right now," Harbaugh said of San Francisco’s passing attack. "It’s definitely off in little correctable ways. That’s what I see."
In comparison, Peyton Manning completed 12-of-14 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. Manning and Denver’s first-team offense played into the second quarter. Under Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco usually limits its starters preseason playing time. This was the case again on Sunday.
New 49ers strong safety Antoine Bethea suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the loss. Bethea went down on a run play and stayed on the ground for a couple of minutes after he appeared to collide with Broncos rookie receiver Cody Latimer. Bethea eventually was able to get to his feet and walk off the field.
The veteran safety was ruled out for the remainder of the game shortly after. Bethea hasn’t missed a regular season game in six seasons. His health status for next Sunday’s home game against the San Diego Chargers, the all-important regular season dress rehearsal, now comes into question.
Harbaugh said the team didn’t officially know the “level” of Bethea’s concussion.
Craig Dahl replaced Bethea and was beat two plays later by a 17-yard Manning touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas. The Broncos took a 17-0 lead into halftime.
Dawson Misses Two
Phil Dawson missed wide right on a 55-yard field goal attempt. He later missed a 44-yard attempt to the right.
The kicking confines of Levi’s® Stadium will definitely take some adjusting from Dawson. The veteran missed a few early field goal attempts at Candlestick Park in 2013, but he did rebound to make 88.9 percent of his kicks in his first season with the 49ers.
Did the change of scenery effect the veteran kicker?
"I don’t know that," Harbaugh said.
Ward and Wilhoite Stay Active
First-round draft pick Jimmie Ward gave up 15-yard reception to veteran Wes Welker on a third-down pass. But Ward was active in the first half, totaling seven tackles in his home debut, including six in the first half.
Without Willis in the lineup, Michael Wilhoite led the 49ers with seven first-half tackles. Chris Borland, San Francisco’s other starting linebacker, played in the second half alongside second-year linebacker Nick Moody. Borland recorded five tackles. Both Wilhoite and Borland appear to still be “even” in their competition to start Week 1 as NaVorro Bowman’s temporary replacement.
For most of the ‘14 training camp, we’ve seen flashes of solid play from rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson. On Sunday, it was fifth-round draft pick Kenneth Acker who made the most of his opportunities on the field.
"In the games," Acker began,"it’s a whole different situation. It’s been great to really get my feet wet and get tried a few times by a couple different people and different receivers. Seeing I can play in this league is pretty nice for me. It’s making me feel more comfortable every play."
Acker recorded a pass breakup on the goal line and later drew an offensive pass interference penalty on Broncos receiver Bennie Fowler. Acker later had an interception negated by an offsides penalty on rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.
"It felt good," Acker said of the near turnover. "Everybody did their job in the scheme part of it. The ball got tipped and I was in the right spot. It wasn’t that much of what I did, it was more about everybody else being in the right place. I commend my teammates.
"I didn’t know there was a penalty at first, so to see everybody get happy, it felt good to actually have the ball back in my hands."