There was much to like about the 49ers’ second exhibition game of 2015.
For starters, the Niners won Sunday night 23-6 over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium, thanks in part to a pair of unusual touchdowns: a rumbling 37-yard interception return by big nose tackle Mike Purcell and Quinton Patton’s recovery of a blocked put in the end zone.
Plus, inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman – one of the keys to the 49ers’ defense this season – made his return to the field for the first time since the NFC Championship Game of January of 2014. Bowman, who’s coming back from knee surgery and a long rehab, was in for just the first three plays on defense yet was in on three tackles.
But for the second week in a row, Jarryd Hayne stole the show.
The former Australian rugby star – who was a sensation last week in his debut against the Texans – was terrific as both a punt returner and running back. He went into training camp as a long shot to make the opening-game roster, but now seems certain to be a part of the team in September.
He returned three punts against the Cowboys Sunday night, including one for 34 yards, and averaged 28 yards per return. On one, he made a great over-the-shoulder catch. Each time, he made defenders miss in space.
Then, he carried the ball eight times as a running back for 54 yards, including one 34-yard burst.
The excitement Hayne has generated in two games has been as impressive as his performance. His first 18 touches, noted Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, produced 235 yards and let the entire NFL know he has the speed, vision and moves to be extremely dangerous in the open field.
Last week, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula counseled the media not to get too excited about him after just one NFL game.
But after two great performances, it’s probably OK for the 49ers and their fans to start thinking that Hayne could have a big, positive impact on San Francisco’s fortunes this coming season.
Wrote Wesseling: “Even if coach Jim Tomsula continues to tamp down the hype, the question has gone from whether Hayne will make the final roster to whether he will hit the ground running as one of the NFL’s most effective return specialists.”