The 49ers couldn’t have asked for a more sun-splashed day to open up their new digs in Levi’s Stadium Sunday in their second preseason game against the Broncos.
If only their play matched the excitement of opening their $1.3 billion venue.
It was an ugly day for the home team, as fans retreated to the shady concourses and club areas to avoid the sun, and perhaps the drumming Denver offered en route to the 34-0 final score.
"Didn’t think we executed well enough in any area today," Jim Harbaugh said.
"We need to make decisions on who we’re playing. We’re not going to keep experimenting. We got to tighten this down fast."
Harbaugh's pointed words came 10 days after a 23-3 loss in Baltimore in the preseason opener. After Sunday's game, San Francisco has been outscored 57-3, and outgained 738 to 417 so far this preseason.
One more key statistic: 7. That's the number of turnovers the 49ers have committed in two preseason games. They had four on Sunday.
Harbaugh and his staff have kept a number of key starters of out action, predictably, so far. But reserves fighting for roles behind those starters have not performed well.
On defense, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Tramaine Brock did not play. Only Smith was in street clothes for warmups, as the others went through their pregame routines prior to kickoff.
"It’s definitely off in little, correctable ways. That’s what I see," said Harbaugh. "I feel like we can get it corrected with a great week. We need to get better, in all phases."
Phil Dawson, San Francisco’s ace kicker who made 28-30 from inside 49 yards last season, missed his first two attempts from 55 and 44 yards. It helped Denver get out to a 17-0 lead at the break.
Harbaugh said he thought everything involving the adjustment of playing in a stadium for the first time went smoothly, even considering Dawson's two missed kicks.
49ers special team specialists have said during training camp the wind inside Levi's Stadium can be frustrating and difficult to predict, much like their gusty practice field next door at their practice facility. It appeared Dawson battled a breeze on both of his field goals going toward either end of the stadium.
Coming into the game, Harbaugh said the plan would remain the same in terms of starters' playing time. Colin Kaepernick played just two drives for the second week in a row, completing 5 of 9 throws for 39 yards. He led drives of eight and nine plays that went just 28 and 36 yards, respectively.
"I thought we moved the ball but didn’t come up with the points," Joe Staley said. "But good thing is we have good things left of training camp to fix issues and it will be a real test for this team this week."
San Francisco will have another Sunday afternoon kickoff next week when they welcome the San Diego Chargers to Levi's Stadium, who finished the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. After winning five of their last six regular season games, they earned a wild card berth and knocked out Cincinnati in the first round round before falling to the Broncos.
"One thing here, one thing there. You had one person mess up on a play, that’s all it took," Kaepernick said. "We just have to clean things up. We had too many mistakes."
Peyton Manning led the Broncos to two scoring drives in his two possessions against the 49ers’ defense missing six starters. Matt Prater hit a 26-yarder capping a 10-play, 47-yard drive for the game’s first score.
On their second drive, moments after strong safety Antoine Bethea suffered a concussion, Manning found tight end Julius Thomas on a seam route for a 17-yard score on 3rd down. Bethea’s backup Craig Dahl was in coverage, allowing Thomas to get inside leverage for the easy completion to make it 10-0.
Manning finished 12 of 14 for 102 yards and a 120.8 rating, even after missing an open Andre Caldwell on the left side of the end zone ending his first drive before settling for the field goal.
Backup QB Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to a touchdown drive to close out the first half, finished off by C.J. Anderson’s 1-yard run up the middle with :02 left. One play after a Blaine Gabbert interception on the 49ers’ first second-half possession, Osweiler hit rookie Cody Latimder down the right sideline for a 33-yard score.
Denver’s first two quarterbacks combined to complete 22 of 27 for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Broncos outgained the 49ers 358-231.
After completing 3 of 11 passes in the preseason opener against the Ravens, Gabbert had another lackluster performance Sunday. His completion rate improved to 8 of 14, thanks to a number of quick passes to Bruce Ellington. But he also threw another interception, and his 40 yards led to a passer rating 32.4.
Reserve QBs Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson also turned the ball over. Johnson lost a fumble and Thompson threw an interception. Wideout David Reed lost a fumble on a kickoff return when it was 27-0 in the fourth, but the defense held on 4th down to prevent a score.
In the final moments, Bethel-Thompson led a 10-play, 80-yard drive, but the 49ers came up a yard short when Jewel Hampton was stuffed for a loss at the goal line. The drive was highlighted by Kevin Greene's 48-yard catch and run down the right sideline, easily the 49ers' biggest play of the day.
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