First, the good news:
Security was everywhere at and around Candlestick Park Saturday night. After last week’s violence-marred game against the Raiders, the 49ers and the NFL took every precaution to make certain fans were safe in the team’s third exhibition game.
This week, there were no incidents.
Safe as they were, however, those same fans probably had to avert their eyes from much of what they saw in the team’s 30-7 loss to the Houston Texans, who are now 3-0 this summer.
The inconsistent Niners – who looked horrible against the Saints in Game 1, but much better last week in beating Oakland in Game 2 – looked rocky again, particularly on offense.
So far, the only consistency to this team has been its inconsistency.
Much of it Saturday night could be attributed to coach Jim Harbaugh’s unusual substitution pattern giving backups – including rookie QB Colin Kaepernick – plenty of playing time against Houston’s first unit in the first half. Plus, safety Donte Whitner, in quotes released by the team during the game, said the team did not game-plan for the matchup with Houston, a somewhat unusual decision by the third exhibition game when starters often get significant playing time.
Obviously, winning this thing was a low, low priority for Harbaugh.
The difference in the teams was marked from the outset: While the Texans rolled up 260 yards of offense and 18 first downs in the first two quarters while building a 24-7 lead, San Francisco had just 50 yards and three first downs.
Niners starting QB Alex Smith – who played the first two series, then sat out two series and returned for the final two series before halftime -- was sacked twice and threw an interception as he was hit while throwing, resulting in a cascade of boos, reported Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
Kaepernick, playing behind the first-string offensive line – which reportedly had difficulty dealing with Houston’s stunts -- replaced Smith and quickly connected on a 15-yard pass to Delanie Walker. He just as quickly was then picked off by free safety Troy Nolan, who returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.
For the night, Smith finished just 2-of-6 passing for 17 yards and a pick, while Kaepernick was 6-of-16 for 52 yards and an interception.
The team’s only highlight came on Houston’s first play from scrimmage, when linebacker Ahmad Brooks picked off a Matt Schaub pass and returned it 13 yards for a score.
Meanwhile, running back Frank Gore – still awaiting a resolution of his contract situation -- stood on the sidelines as Anthony Dixon (eight carries, 15 yards) and Kendall Hunter (eight carries, 40 yards) got the action.
“I wanted to find out who our second-best back was,” Harbaugh said after the game.
So what does it all mean?
It means with 15 days to go until the season opener against the Seahawks on Sept. 11, Harbaugh’s team still very much looks like a work in progress.
The first-team defense often has been solid, yet the offense has been anything but.
By giving a nod to backups Saturday night, and choosing not to game-plan, Harbaugh and his coaching staff obviously are still evaluating, still learning and still waiting to make decisions.
Said Brooks, to the San Francisco Chronicle after the game: “We got a lot of work to do.”