The 49ers practice next to Great America, but Colt McCoy’s Sunday had more ups and downs than Top Gun and The Demon combined. The McCoy roller coaster day started with reports that he had “renegotiated” his contract, which really meant that he took a substantial cut in pay from the $1.5 million he was scheduled to earn. There were also trade rumors. He was on his way out, or at least that’s how it appeared.

Then the game started. After Colin Kaepernick played three series and ended his day with a touchdown pass to Quinton Patton (more on that later), McCoy came in. The ball was at the 49ers’ 2-yard-line, but the roller coaster started slowly climbing up the hill with a couple short completions here, a LaMichael James scamper there … and 11 plays and 32 yards later (no, that’s not a typo), McCoy was intercepted by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway.

Colt McCoy 49ers warmups pregameThere you had it. The valley of McCoy’s short tenure with the 49ers. Surely we’d get a chance to see one of the other three quarterbacks. Except that’s not what happened — McCoy came out and led the 49ers to a 50-yard Phil Dawson field goal at the end of the half, then came out in the third quarter for two more possessions, which resulted in a punt and a Jewel Hampton touchdown run.

McCoy’s stats (11-for-15, 109 yards and the INT) were okay, and Garrett Celek dropped one of McCoy’s better throws. That was enough for Jim Harbaugh.

“I feel real good right now that Colt’s the backup,” said Harbaugh. “Thought he was real accurate with his throws, his command of the offense is good, getting better. Thought he was plus-plus tonight.”

B.J. Daniels completed 2-of-3 passes for 30 yards and had a 20-yard run on his only drive, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown run for Anthony Dixon. Seneca Wallace got three snaps at the end of the game, completing both passes he threw (both to Jason Schepler) for 27 yards. Scott Tolzien didn’t play, which either means he’s out of the running for the No. 3 job, he’s still “working through something” even though he was warming up before the game and on the sidelines, or both.

Kap finds a rhythm

This game was supposed to be about backup quarterbacks, but Colin Kaepernick’s offseason was incomplete coming into this game. Kaepernick has been collecting endorsements and compliments ever since the Super Bowl. His practices, by and large, have been superb. The only thing missing was a preseason touchdown.

Colin Kaepernick San Francisco 49ers Week 3 Preseason 2013Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense were handed a great opportunity early, when Christian Ponder was sacked by Ahmad Brooks and fumbled. Aldon Smith recovered the ball at the Vikings’ 11-yard-line, but the 49ers lost a yard on three plays and settled for a Dawson field goal.

The 49ers’ next offensive possession wasn’t much better, as Kaepernick could only muster a 4-yard pass to Chad Hall along with two incompletions. So Kaepernick came in for a third series for the first time this preseason. His first two passes fell incomplete, which led to an ugly early stat-line: 1-for-7 passing, 4 yards.

Facing a 3rd-and-10, Kaepernick completed a 19-yard pass to the left to rookie Quinton Patton, who made his preseason debut. Suddenly Kaepernick went from ice cold to firing darts with precision.

  • The next two plays were completions of 10 and 11 yards to Vernon Davis.
  • After rolling out to the right, Kaepernick threw across his body and hit Marlon Moore in stride across the middle for 15 yards.
  • After Kendall Hunter lost two yards on first down, Kaepernick completed an 8-yarder to Moore to put the 49ers at the Vikings’ 4-yard-line.

The lack of a preseason touchdown could be explained by Kaepernick’s lack of preseason snaps, but the 49ers’ troubles in the red zone are real. We don’t have to go over a certain game in New Orleans, and in practice the offense seems to slow down during red zone drills — even with Kaepernick behind center. But on this drive Kaepernick wouldn’t be denied, as he found Patton again — this time in the back of the end zone. Six straight completions — not a bad way to end the night.

Kaepernick probably would’ve been fine if his night ended after that second series, or if he was unable to convert that third down that seemed to make everything click. I asked Harbaugh about that, and while he agreed with the basic premise he also pointed to some problems during the first two series that were out of Kaepernick’s control, like no one getting open on the first possession and Kaepernick getting his arm hit by Brian Robison as he threw during the second series.

Week 3 Preseason Notes

— The first team defensive line was outstanding, with Brooks wreaking havoc and Justin Smith looking like an All-Pro again. Smith body-slammed poor Toby Gerhart with such force that it wouldn’t have been surprising if the impact created a sinkhole in the middle of the field.

“Justin Smith had a burr up his saddle or something tonight. He was Justin Smith. He was great,” Harbaugh said.

— Eric Reid was tested deep on the very first play, a slight overthrow from Ponder to Greg Jennings. Reid also got a nice little shot in on Jennings (who was absolutely blasted by Dashon Goldson in Week 1 last year and never seemed to be the same last season).

— I asked LaMichael James about the reported elbow injury (the press box was told that James was “questionable” during the game). He responded to my question by saying “I’m good” two times, then he flexed both arms. Guess he’s good.

— Harbaugh on Kendall Hunter: “A lot of the fellas have been talking about how he seems faster.” He sure looked fast on his first carry, which went for 15 yards.

— Hampton made things interesting with 45 yards on eight carries — if the 49ers think Hampton can play special teams halfway decently, Anthony Dixon may be in trouble.

— Jonathan Baldwin looks infinitely more comfortable than A.J. Jenkins ever did, and he’s only been with the team for a week.

Kyle Williams SF 49ers preseason 2013— I was surprised that Kyle Williams didn’t suit up. He was in uniform during pregame warmups and seemed pretty energetic/intense during team drills. He was the last player to leave the field before introductions (pictured).

— Harbaugh on Patton: “Quinton Patton, thought he stepped up. Very excited about him tonight. Strong player. He’s been showing that in practice.”

— Kaepernick on Patton: “He is a great player. He is someone who just knows football. He knows how to get open. He knows how to make plays. I am looking forward to seeing what he can do for us.”

— I asked Patton about improvising and getting open for Kaepernick: “It goes with just being a football player. Scramble drill we work on in practice, just finding an open spot on the field. Because Kap’s got those legs, he’s going to keep plays alive.”

— With Patton looking strong, Moore making a few plays and Baldwin looking pretty strong, the 49ers’ receiving corps suddenly doesn’t look so bad. It’s too early to celebrate since we’re talking about one preseason game, but things are starting to look up.

— Vance McDonald sure is fun to watch. I’m not sure how teams are going to handle the 49ers’ two-TE sets this season.

— Lavelle Hawkins had a crazy night, with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a gorgeous 22-yard reception along the left sideline on a pass from Daniels, and THREE UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT PENALTIES.

Harbaugh said that Hawkins is “probably at the two-strike level,” which presumably means he’s one strike away from being out. “He’s definitely got to do a better job of not getting emotionally hijacked after doing something great,” Harbaugh said.

— Matt Kalil was called for two personal fouls of his own on a night where both teams combined for 17 penalties. The 49ers were flagged 11 times for 118 yards, which didn’t hurt them in terms of the final score (oh yeah: the 49ers won 34-14).