After months of anticipation, the 2013 San Francisco 49ers finally took the field Thursday night to kick off the final season at Candlestick Park. Unfortunately, the Niners fell to the Denver Broncos in a 10-6 affair, but the final score doesn't matter all that much when the games don't count.
After all, it's only the preseason. It's easy to argue that the only winners and losers are based on who gets hurt and who comes out unscathed. But for players fighting for depth chart positions and roster spots, these games are crucial.
For what it's worth, several players and units stood out in the first preseason game for one reason or another. The defense surrendered only three points, while the offense coughed up four turnovers, with one resulting in the game's only touchdown.
But beyond the box score, here are the biggest winners and losers from Thursday night's action.
*Note: All statistics referenced in this article, unless otherwise attributed, according to ESPN.com.
They only stayed on the field for one drive, but the starting offense looked good as they marched down field and chewed up more than seven minutes of game clock. The drive stalled after a false-start penalty in the red zone, however, ending in a field goal.
Backup running back LaMichael James also took advantage of starting reps with Frank Gore sitting out, showing speed and vision on the 49ers' first drive. His final stat line won't wow anybody, but he broke off four separate runs of five yards or more when he played with the first team.
The starting offense was rolling on all cylinders, but it took until the fourth quarter for the 49ers to put additional points on the scoreboard. A big reason for that was the play of the offensive line after the starters came off the field.
As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle observed, the second-string line hardly looked ready to take over if needed. Whether Colt McCoy or Scott Tolzien was under center, the quarterbacks often found themselves under heavy pressure throughout the game.
The rushing averages also dipped, with both Anthony Dixon and LaMichael James averaging under four yards per carry, despite a strong start from James. In Dixon's case, at least two big runs in the fourth quarter were also called back on holding penalties.
Especially following the signing of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright, as reported by Taylor Price of 49ers.com, competition has become pretty intense in the San Francisco secondary. Niners Nation credited Cox with a "nice game," which included a big tackle for loss and a few good-looking pass breakups in tight coverage.
In addition, Cox looked great in the return game, including a 33-yard kick return and a 15-yard punt return. Jim Harbaugh likes versatile players, and Cox did a lot of things well against Denver.
The last thing you want to see in a preseason game is an injury, but Colt McCoy caught a bad break in his 49ers' debut. According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, McCoy said he is scheduled for an MRI on Friday for what he believes to just be a "stinger in his right shoulder and neck."
For a guy competing to be Colin Kaepernick's backup, no injury is good news. All told, McCoy went 3-of-7 in limited action, including an interception on a deep throw to A.J. Jenkins. But the stats won't hurt him as much as his limited opportunity to show Jim Harbaugh what he can do in game action.
For Colt's sake, let's hope the injury keeps him out for as short of a period as possible.
If Kassim Osgood makes the final 53-man roster, it will most likely be more for his special teams contributions than his offensive prowess. After all, in 11 NFL seasons, he has recorded only 44 career receptions.
However, Osgood looked good with three catches for 34 yards, including two for first downs late in the second quarter that set up a missed Phil Dawson field goal to end the half. According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, Osgood also added two special teams tackles. With the receiver depth chart up in the air, the special teams ace did nothing to hurt his chances of surviving the cut.
Last year's first-round pick would rank higher (or lower, I suppose) on this list if I felt he were in any real danger of being cut. But his performance against Denver even got Coach Harbaugh asking for more.
According to The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows, Harbaugh offered the following words on Jenkins performance: "Uh, could have been better." Not exactly a glowing review.
Jenkins recorded only one reception for 11 yards on three targets, coughing up that catch on a lost fumble. Another of those targets went for an interception. Jenkins was on the field for a good portion of the game and appeared open a few times, but he'll definitely have to produce more as the regular season approaches.
This slide could really go to the entire defensive effort throughout the game, which was excellent on all accounts. However, the pass rush in particular stepped up with four sacks and could have had even more.
Parys Haralson recorded a sack in his first game back after missing all of 2012 with a triceps injury. Linebacker Dan Skuta added two sacks of his own, including one in the red zone during a late fourth-quarter drive. Rookie Corey Lemonier also impressed as the defense forced the Broncos to rush a fair share of passes.
This one was an easy one, even if it leaves me with more winners than losers. Austin Collie fought back from a lot of injuries to get back for this season, and he took advantage when given an opportunity late in the fourth quarter.
Collie hauled in two passes for 20 yards, including a big fourth-down reception to move the chains. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for Collie, who was on track to have a nice career before concussions threatened to ruin his future.
Welcome back, Austin. And here's hoping you're healthy in red and gold for a long time to come.