Quarterback Alex Smith of the 49ers had good protection and time to throw. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Going into last night’s final exhibition game, some of the 49ers had a message for their followers.
Be patient. Have faith. Don’t believe that two very rough outings against New Orleans and Houston – when the team’s offense looked inefficient and inept – are a preview of coming attractions.
“We’re going to be fine,” running back Frank Gore told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Y’all are to see Sept. 11. … When it counts, the 49ers are going to be ready.” Wide receiver Braylon Edwards chipped in, too, saying he believes the offense will “be explosive.”
Well, Thursday night against the host Chargers the Niners weren’t explosive, but when their first-team unit was on the field against San Diego it was efficient – and starting quarterback Alex Smith wasn’t running for his life for a change – in notching a 20-17 victory to close out the preseason schedule with a 2-2 record under new coach Jim Harbaugh.
Smith, who for most of the preseason had been trying to throw under heavy pressure, hit his first three passes of the night and marched his team to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, both scoring drives culminating in 1-yard Anthony Dixon TD runs. With Gore again on the sideline, Dixon (45 yards) and Kendall Hunter (57) led the rushing game.
Smith, who grew up in San Diego, came out after the first quarter having completed 8-of-10 throws for 45 yards, no TDs and no interceptions.
With the line playing well, San Francisco’s running game was working and the offense stockpiled a bit of momentum, at least, going into its season opener Sept. 11 vs. Seattle. It was often just a battle of backups fighting for the final roster spots on both teams, with several top players held out or playing very little, yet it was a much sweeter result than the sour outing against the Texans.
“I don’t know if we had anything to prove,” said Smith, in quotes released by the team during the second half. “It’s the fourth preseason game. We definitely wanted to get the taste out of our mouth from last week though. Get some rhythm, convert on some third downs, move some chains and hopefully points on the board, and we were able to do that.
“We took the opening drive all the way down and stuck it in. … So, yeah, it was a good start.”
Though Harbaugh has been reluctant to anoint Smith the starter for Game 1, it seems certain Smith will be the man.
Rookie Colin Kaepernick came on in the second quarter, threw two interceptions during his stint and finishes the exhibition schedule having thrown five picks and no TD passes. Kaepernick was 3-of-7 for 36 yards. He did demonstrate his mobility once again, however, gaining 20 yards on three carries.
Said Smith, of the turnaround performance by the offensive line: “Guys up front, I think they got challenged this week a little bit. They stepped up to it.”