Preseason Game Breakdown: 49ers vs. Chargers

Scoring summary, key plays, what went right and wrong for the 49ers and what units stood out among the others for San Francisco during Friday night's 20-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the exhibition season finale for both teams at Candlestick Park.

Score by quarters
Chargers 7 6 0 7 – 20
49ERS 3 7 7 0 – 17

Paid attendance: 67,133

Final preseason records: 49ers 2-2, Chargers 3-1

Statistic that stands out: After not committing a turnover the week before against Chicago, the 49ers turned the ball over six times against the Chargers, with Alex Smith and Shaun Hill each throwing two interceptions.

Play to remember: After the Chargers increased their lead to 10-3 on Nate Kaeding's 59-yard field goal with 5:55 remaining before halftime, Kaeding sent his ensuing kickoff deep to the San Francisco goal line, where returner Delanie Walker circled underneath it. Walker stepped back into the end zone as he retrieved the ball, then began weaving his way to the right side as he brought it back. Picking up an excellent block by Michael Robinson – who flattened a San Diego defender – Walker turned the corner, where he got a nice seal block from Jeff Ulbrich, and then began picking up steam down the right sideline. As Walker reached midfield, Kaeding had the angle on the returner, but the kicker declined to engage in contact as Walker approached. Walker ran right past Kaeding without being touched – it almost looked as though the kicker tried to avoid him – and then the field opened in front of him. Walker cruised untouched the rest of the way to complete a 101-yard return that tied the score and gave San Francisco its first kickoff return for a touchdown – preseason or otherwise – since Cedrick Wilson returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown during a November victory over St. Louis in 2003.

Play to forget: After the San Francisco defense had stopped the Chargers and forced the San Diego offense to give up the football for the sixth consecutive time with 2:20 remaining in the game, punter Mike Scifres sailed a low punt that bounced well in front of San Francisco returner Robert Ortiz. The ball continued to bounce toward Ortiz, then tailed to the right as the returner made a late decision to field it. But upon reaching for the ball, Ortiz had trouble getting a handle on it, and he was hit by San Diego defenders as he attempted to gain control. The ball went bouncing free in front of Ortiz, where San Diego's Antwan Applewhite fell on it at the San Francisco 17. Given that opportune field position, the Chargers were able to convert on two fourth-down situations and put the ball in the end zone from there to pull out a victory that probably would have belonged to the 49ers had Ortiz fielded the ball properly or simply allowed it to roll until it was touched down by the Chargers.


SCORING PLAYS

First quarter:
Chargers (7:29) Mike Tolbert 6-yard pass from Billy Volek (Nate Kaeding kick); 49ers (4:35) Joe Nedney 52-yard field goal.

Second quarter: Chargers (5:55) Kaeding 49-yard field goal; 49ers (5:42) Delanie Walker 101-yard kickoff return (Nedney kick); Chargers (1:06) Kaeding 35-yard field goal.

Third quarter: 49ers (8:24) Billy Bajema 22 pass from Alex Smith (Nedney kick).

Fourth quarter: Chargers (0:29) Eldra Buckley 2-yard pass from Charlie Whitehurst (Kaeding kick).


WHAT WENT RIGHT

Reserve defenders get tough:
The Chargers were limited to just 51 yards of net total offense in the second half and got the ball past their own 38-yard line just once after halftime – until was given to them on the San Francisco 17 by a fumble in the final minutes of the game.

Linebackers making plays: The 49ers received excellent play from their linebacker unit throughout the game, and it will be difficult for them to make some roster decisions on young bubble players such as Dennis Haley (five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) and Larry Grant (two tackles, one for a loss, two passes defensed). Takeo Spikes also appeared to get in the flow in his best game so far as a 49er with a game-high six tackles.

Pass protection sharp: There were two sacks, but San Francisco quarterbacks had a lot of time in the pocket to throw throughout the evening.

Robinson back in action: Running back Michael Robinson returned to action after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery at the end of July, and he showed that all is well by rushing for 39 yards and adding another 30 on three receptions. He also contributed standout performance on special teams, where he figures to make a significant impact in the regular season.

Johnson gets in the flow: After missing the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury, Bryant Johnson returned to the starting lineup Friday and played like he belonged there, recording three receptions for 41 yards in limited playing time during the first half.

Moving the football: Regardless of who was in the game, the 49ers were able to move the football throughout the evening, usually stopping themselves instead of being stopped by the San Diego defense. The San Diego defense forced only two punts – and both of those came with the 49ers in the lead in the fourth quarter. San Francisco produced 218 yards of offense in the second half after controlling the ball just eight minutes, 11 seconds in the first half.

Clayton makes his case: The 49ers have a tough roster decision to make regarding running back Thomas Clayton, who again showed power and burst while rushing for 53 yards on just eight carries to finish as San Francisco's leading rusher in the preseason for the second consecutive year.

Explosive returns: Even without lead returner Allen Rossum, who sat out the game with a chest contusion, the 49ers got great production from their kickoff return unit as Delanie Walker averaged 37.2 yards on five returns, bringing one of them back 101 yards for a touchdown.

Good Alex: When Alex Smith was on, he looked good. Smith led the 49ers 90 yards in 10 plays to being the second half for their only offensive touchdown. He finished 12 of 17 passing for 146 yards and a touchdown.


WHAT WENT WRONG

Bad Alex:
Smith forced balls into coverage and threw two killer interceptions, one of them an overthrow on a play where receiver Arnaz Battle was wide open inside the San Diego 10-yard line. He also made two poor throws when the 49ers were knocking at the San Diego goal line early in the game, and San Francisco ended up with no points after reaching the San Diego 6-yard line. He telegraphed several of his throws, including his 22-yard touchdown pass to Billy Bajema, which Bajema was able to pull out of the hands of a defender who got to the ball first.

Turnover city: The 49ers gave the football away six times – two each on interceptions by Smith and Shaun Hill – and that finally did them in at the end when Robert Ortiz's fumble on a punt return set up San Diego's game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

Thomas no Willis: Dontarrious Thomas got the start at inside linebacker in place of Patrick Willis, who was given the evening off, and he missed two open-field tackles and was called for pass interference on the game's opening possession, which greatly aided San Diego in moving down the field on a 12-play, 79-yard drive for the game's first touchdown.

Soft up the middle: The Chargers were able to plough for some straight-ahead yards, and they finished with 113 on the ground, average 4.0 yards a pop.


UNITS THAT STOOD OUT

Offensive line:
The 49ers got fine play up front from the starting unit of tackles Joe Staley and Barry Sims, center Eric Heitmann and guards Tony Wragge and David Baas. Baas, in particular, looked good in his return from surgery after tearing a pectoral in April. This unit looks ready for the regular season, whether tackle Jonas Jennings and Adam Snyder are back in the mix by then or not.

Defensive backfield: Starting cornerbacks Walt Harris and Nate Clements were given the night off, and the rest of San Francisco's cornerbacks responded by making plays all night. Shawntae Spencer was particularly strong in coverage, breaking up two passes on plays deep down the field. Rookie Reggie Smith also broke up two passes and the 49ers had seven passes defensed as a team.

Linebackers: Take away Dontarrious Thomas' shoddy play on San Diego's game-opening drive, and this was a superb showing by this unit, from the front-liners to the back-enders. Takeo Spikes finished with a game-high six tackles, starters Jeff Ulbrich and Parys Haralson each had four, and Dennis Haley had five in a strong individual showing throughout the second half. Tully Banta-Cain and rookie Larry Grant also made some conspicuous plays.

Kickoff return unit: Delanie Walker put up some big numbers and big returns – most notably his 101-yarder for a touchdown – but he was aided by some excellent blocking by his teammates. When Allen Rossum returns, the 49ers will have a lot of explosiveness on this unit.


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