The San Francisco 49ers played host to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in a battle of 2013 playoff teams looking to gain some momentum before the quickly approaching regular season. Despite San Francisco's 21-7 victory, the Chargers appeared to be slightly better prepared, at least in terms of the first-string players.
Under head coach Mike McCoy, San Diego's offense took flight last season, and veteran quarterback Philip Rivers was resurgent. That trend continued on Sunday, as Rivers completed nine of his 10 attempts for 85 yards and one touchdown for a passer rating of 135.4.
He picked apart the 49ers defense, completing passes to Keenan Allen, Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead before tossing a 10-yard strike to Antonio Gates.
Needless to say, analysts were impressed with the quarterback's performance, and NFL.com's Adam Rank tweeted his fantasy take:
It wasn't only San Diego's passing attack that looked on point, as Mathews and Woodhead combined for 38 yards on eight carries early in the game.
San Francisco's vaunted defense may have given up some yards initially against Rivers, but they did force a couple of punts and had a solid goal-line stand, as NFL on ESPN highlights:
GOAL-LINE STAND! Kaepernick has fumbled twice in 2 possessions, but the 49ers defense holds strong on 4th-and-1 in the red zone.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 24, 2014
With Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Ian Williams and Tramaine Brock back on the field, this unit finally began to resemble its previously stout form.
Despite a solid showing on defense, it was the offense which continued to be a cause for concern for San Francisco.
After scoring just three points in its first two preseason contests, Colin Kaepernick and Co. were aiming to get into a rhythm in Sunday's dress rehearsal. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, as Kaepernick completed just six of his 12 attempts for 59 yards and a passer rating of 64.2. He also lost one fumble.
NFL on ESPN tweeted the quarterback's poor numbers through three preseason contests:
Through 3 preseason games, Colin Kaepernick is 12-22, 115 yds, lost fumble. He's led SF to one field goal. pic.twitter.com/NjLKxylvNE— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 24, 2014
Although, Kaepernick isn't entirely to blame for his performance. NFL Around the League noted the consistent pressure applied due to some lackluster offensive line play:
Kaepernick is taking a beating early against the Chargers.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 24, 2014
Due to the inability of San Francisco's offense, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle gave his humorous take on which historical defense the Chargers resembled:
The 1985 Bears, um, Chargers defense, is back on the field. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) August 24, 2014
The 49ers running game saw a bit of a roller-coaster showing. Rookie Carlos Hyde looked strong, rushing six times for 38 yards; however, LaMichael James carried seven times for just nine yards.
Hyde's performance caught the eye of one NFL legend:
Carlos Hyde looks like the real deal.— Ronnie Lott (@RonnieLottHOF) August 24, 2014
San Francisco did get to see some fine play from its second-strong offense, however. Blaine Gabbert may have solidified his position as the team's backup quarterback after completing seven of his 11 attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 110.4. Vance McDonald looked sharp in relief for Vernon Davis, catching three receptions for 29 yards and a score.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News noted the huge upswing in Gabbert's Week 3 showing:
#49ers Blaine Gabbert, who entered with NFL's 112th-ranked passer rating of 17.9, posts a 110.4 rating (7-of-11, 66 yds, TD)— Cam Inman (@CamInman) August 24, 2014
The Chargers didn't exactly see the same type of performance from their backup signal-callers. Kellen Clemens attempted just one pass—and fumbled once—before being replaced by Brad Sorensen.
The second-year quarterback did not look sharp, completing 11 of his 21 attempts for 84 yards and two interceptions for a passer rating of 22.8. This led to an interesting statement from Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego with roster cuts nearing:
As we consider Chargers' commitment to keeping third QB Brad Sorensen in light of other roster needs, he is struggling today.— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) August 24, 2014
Going forward, it appears as though these two teams are in need of improvement in different areas. San Francisco must figure out why its offense can't seem to find its groove, and San Diego may have to worry about depth at certain positions.
Both head coaches will have some tough decisions to make in the near future with roster cuts forthcoming. The next time each of these teams takes the field, only 75 players will remain in uniform.
The 49ers will play their final preseason contest against the Houston Texans before opening the regular season against the Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers will move on to face the Arizona Cardinals in back-to-back games—in San Diego to finish the preseason and in Arizona to begin the regular season.