For fans excited to see Randy Moss catch a pass in a San Francisco 49ers uniform, they better have been at Candlestick Park during pregame warmups. Moss was in there for a few snaps this evening, but didn’t see a pass come his way during a 17-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings, a game in which the 49ers were content to run (and run, and run some more) during the short period when Moss was on the field early on.
No matter which lines were in, the 49ers seemed to have the advantage. Their first-team offensive and defensive lines had their way with their counterparts on the Vikings for the most part, as did the second- and third-team units. Aldon Smith chased Christian Ponder on 3rd-and-7 on the 49ers’ 21-yard-line during the Vikings’ first possession, hurrying Ponder into an incompletion that forced the Vikings to kick a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
On the strength of long runs by Rock Cartwright and a spirited Brandon Jacobs, the 49ers held the ball for 12 plays and almost six minutes, ending their drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Brett Swain. Smith only played in that series, completing all three short passes he threw for 16 yards.
On the first play of the Vikings’ ensuing possession, Aldon Smith pursued, dove and tripped up Toby Gerhart to stop him after a 3-yard run. Then Smith limped off the field with what the 49ers termed a “bruised hip.” After sitting on the bench with a towel on his head, talking to trainers for several minutes, the cart came out and took a gimpy Smith back to the locker room.
Jim Harbaugh seemed very content with his players’ effort and extremely happy to get some “data” and film from something other than practice. He also seemed pretty optimistic about the team’s best pass rusher.
“We’re still waiting. Preliminary looks like (Aldon Smith) will be alright. Looks like we’ll dodge a bullet there,” Harbaugh said.
The health of Aldon Smith is the most important story this game produced, but there were several players who helped themselves on this windy night as well.
Brandon Jacobs: New York Giants fans may have an answer to the question: What does this behemoth look like when he’s motivated? Jacobs didn’t just look big against the Vikings, he ran decisively and moved chains — all four of his runs gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs.
I went down onto the field during warmups, and Jacobs looked like he was pretty pumped up — for a preseason game, at least.
Kendall Hunter: What else can one say? He was the starting back tonight with Frank Gore resting, and he looked like an NFL starter. 5 rushes for 24 yards, nice pickups in pass protection, the works. You know what, he deserves a pregame photo as well.
Colin Kaepernick: The read option may be a way Kaepernick gets some playing time even with Alex Smith healthy; he faked a handoff to LaMichael James and scampered 78 yards for a touchdown on his second play (punctuated with a nice stiff arm near the goal line). The play clearly fooled the Vikings, something James noticed.
“I look up and I see 11 defenders, and I look over and he’s gone,” James told me. “Credit to him. He’s a fast runner, made the right read and took off.”
On Kaepernick’s next play from scrimmage, he was sacked for a 6-yard loss, and he completed 5-of-9 passes (including one A.J. Jenkins was forced to deflect away to avoid an interception). One of those completions was the most impressive pass of the night for San Francisco, as Kaepernick rolled to his right and connected with Jenkins for 15 yards on the right sideline. Kaepernick still has plenty of work to do, but the physical tools … they’re there.
Eric Bakhtiari: The University of San Diego linebacker had two sacks in the second half.
Chris Owusu: The undrafted rookie out of Stanford led the team with 3 receptions for 35 yards.
Scott Tolzien: Tolzein was the most productive passer of all the back ups, leading the team in completions (10-for-13) and yards (84). His only bad pass was an interception; his other two incompletions were actually drops by Jenkins and Nathan Palmer.
Perrish Cox: We all knew he was making the team, but Cox — who intercepted a McLeod Bethel-Thompson pass late in the game — is going to play a lot this year.
“I thought his coverage was excellent. Just in command of his movements, his change of direction, and his eyes. You don’t get around the ball as much as he did without seeing and tracking the ball well. That was real encouraging,” Harbaugh said.
Kyle Williams: I was more than a bit embarrassed for the fans who actually booed the guy as he set up to return a punt in the second quarter. Those fans looked like morons when his 22-yard return ended with a leap into an oncoming Viking — as if Williams thought about unleashing a flying kick of some sort.
There were other players who performed well, but I’ll say this in honor of Vikings asst. coach Mike Singletary:
To find out who else deserved praise, “I gotta look at the film.”
LaMichael James’ first preseason game
I asked James a few questions after the game, first about Kaepernick’s TD run (as quoted earlier) as well as how he felt about his performance on Friday night.
Then I asked Harbaugh about James, and here’s what he said:
Allow me to get a little sentimental…
Tonight was my first time in the Candlestick Park press box, and I can’t complain about the experience at all. Sure, the last time I was at this altitude was when my buddy Carp and I sat in Sec. 60 for Game 3 of the 1997 NLDS, but I got to stand on the field for the first time. The free food was a nice touch, too.
However, the elevator down to the field wasn’t working today, and that was a cause for grumbling among many members of the media. I didn’t mind the extra exercise, but I’m also a sap. I have an unhealthy attachment to The Stick. Maybe if I cover some more games (or get mugged on the way to my car tonight), I’ll change my tune.