SAN FRANCISCO – Two preseason games, two victories. That might look good on paper, but Mike Singletary – a hard man to please even when things are going well – found enough evidence to offer a lukewarm assessment of his San Francisco 49ers team Sunday night.
The running game was dreadful. The fourth quarter was a disappointment. Third-team quarterback Nate Davis was up and down, mostly down. And running back Anthony Dixon danced a little too much against one of the NFL best run defenses.
"They've been the No. 1 team against the run for the past four or five years," the 49ers coach said after his team had beaten the Minnesota Vikings 15-10 in the first game back for Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. "I'm sure they'll take my word for it after playing this game."
But a win is a win. Here are some points worth noting:
1. Linebacker Patrick Willis isn't someone the 49ers will ever have to worry about. If he's healthy, he's dynamic. He leveled Favre for a 10-yard sack on the Vikings' third offensive play, brushing aside a block from Adrian Peterson and wrapping up the 40-year-old quarterback. Willis was done by the end of the first quarter, and Favre played just one series before yielding to Tarvaris Jackson.
2. The Niners ran for just 80 yards in 31 carries against the Minnesota, with Dixon, the rookie who totaled 100 yards rushing in his first game, netting just 51 yards on 20 attempts, a 2.6 average. "I think there's a reason for his happy feet," Singletary said. "If there's a hole, you have to hit it. And even if there isn't a hole, you have to hit it." The Vikings don't offer too many running lanes, and Dixon often tried to dance his way through the line rather than run straight ahead, which is what the 49ers want to see.
3. As expected, the 49ers' big guns stayed on the sidelines. Running backs Frank Gore and Brian Westbrook took part in pregame warm-ups but didn't play, nor did wide receiver Michael Crabtree (neck strain) or tight end Vernon Davis (knee strain). Crabtree and Davis will have to play some series in the final two preseason games to work on their timing with quarterback Alex Smith.
4. Smith looked better in his second start, going 5 for 6 passing on the 49ers' opening drive for a touchdown. He was 9 of 13 for the game for 88 yards and played the entire first half. Singletary: "I think he did a good job overall, so I was happy to see him take the next step."
5. Nate Davis was given an opportunity to stake a claim to the No. 2 job behind Smith but clearly did little to please Singletary. He played the entire second half (backup David Carr did not play) and failed to find a consistency. Singletary said he questions if Davis put in the offseason work he should have. "I think he has to get on the same page to put himself in position to compete," the coach said. "Right now, he's competing against himself. I'm pulling for him. I'm hoping. But right now he's inconsistent." Even Davis conceded he missed some protection calls. His best play: a 60-yard heave to Ted Ginn Jr. that set up a field goal.