It was a strange week for the 49ers, who had to replace the bad turf in their brand new stadium and then woke up to an earthquake early Sunday morning.
But the strangest twist may have come in the 49ers’ 21-7 exhibition victory over the Chargers at Levi’s Stadium, when backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert – who had looked awful this exhibition season against the Ravens and Broncos -- posted better stats than starter Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick played just into the second quarter, completing 6-of-12 throws for 59 yards while also losing a fumble while being sacked.
Kaepernick – who was under consistent pressure and hit four times -- and the first-string offense struggled against the Chargers until the second quarter, when Kaepernick got his rhythm and completed five straight passes to drive the 49ers to the 21-yard line. From there, Phil Dawson kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Gabbert then took over and looked sharp.
The No. 2 QB completed 7-of-11 passes for 66 yards and connected with tight end Vance McDonald on a 6-yard TD pass in the second quarter to put the Niners up 10-7. On the drive, Gabbert completed 5-of-6 throws for 58 yards. Twice, he came up with third-down completions to keep the offense moving. One pass, a slant to rookie wideout Bruce Ellington, hit Ellington perfectly in stride for a 19-yard pickup.
Just when it looked like Gabbert may be losing his hold on the backup job to Kaepernick, Gabbert made a complete turnaround Sunday. Going into the San Diego game he had completed just 44 percent of his throws and had the lowest passer rating (17.9) of any QB in the NFL who had attempted at least 15 passes. Against the Chargers, his passer rating was 110.4.
“For the first time this preseason, Blaine Gabbert looks NFL-quality,” tweeted Eric Branch, who covers the 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Played big role on 10-play, 68-yard drive.”
Of course, Gabbert’s surprise rebound in the third exhibition game wasn’t the only positive for the 49ers.
No. 1 pick Jimmie Ward, starting at nickel corner, made an interception on a tipped ball; second-round choice Carlos Hyde continued his impressive running, picking up 38 yards on six carries; and rookie Chris Borland and veteran Michael Wilhoite – each competing to replace NaVorro Bowman at inside linebacker – both had outstanding days. Borland had a sack and a tackle for loss, and Whilhoite had five tackles. Another rookie, linebacker Aaron Lynch, had a sack and tipped the ball intercepted by Ward.
Now the 49ers have just four days until their final exhibition game, against the Texans in Houston, and a lot of decisions to make with the first roster cuts scheduled this week.