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Gamer: 49ers Bested by Denver Broncos in Levi's® Stadium Debut

Posted Aug 17, 2014

San Francisco's new Santa Clara home more than held its own (and its sold-out crowd) in the team's second game of the exhibition season.

The lead:
This Sunday was as much a trial run for the San Francisco 49ers as it was for their new home. Levi's® Stadium got its first preseason action with Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos in town. The building more than held its own – and its 68,426 fans.

The first-timers, of course, saw a lot of second- and third-string players. Both Colin Kaepernick, who was 5-of-9 for 39 yards passing, and Manning played two series' before sitting down. Although Manning did manage to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas before exiting. He and Denver would go onto win the first football game in Santa Clara, 34-0.

Like the 49ers (0-2) preseason loss in Baltimore last week, however, this one only counts in the standings for so long. Levi's® Stadium will last a lot longer. 

The quote: "We need to make decisions on (which players) we're going with," Jim Harbaugh said. "We need to stop experimenting."

The injury report: Four players who are expected to be ready to play to start the regular season didn't dress on Sunday: running back LaMichael James, right tackle Anthony Davis, nose tackle Ian Williams and defensive tackle Justin Smith.

–Safety Antoine Bethea went down on the third play of the second quarter. He walked off of the field under his own power after a pat on the back from Manning, a former teammate with the Indianapolis Colts, and was replaced by Craig Dahl on the next down. Bethea did not return after being diagnosed with a concussion. Not long after his exit, Dahl was bested on the scoring connection between Manning and Thomas.

–Wideout Devon Wylie left the game midway through the fourth quarter after he was struck by Broncos cornerback Jerome Murphy. He walked off without aid. After being tended to by team doctors on the sideline, he was escorted to the locker room.

–Safety D.J. Campbell went down late in the fourth. He walked off of the field with a trainer on both sides of him.

The scoring: Full stats here.

The notes: Left tackle Joe Staley, kicker Phil Dawson and Bethea represented the team as captains.

–Fullback Bruce Miller returned the first kickoff in Levi's® Stadium's history. Rookie wideout Bruce Ellington, a contender for the full-time job, returned the second.

Joe Looney (guard) and Jonathan Martin (tackle) started along the right side of the offensive line in place of Alex Boone (absent) and Anthony Davis (rehabbing).

–Running back Frank Gore carried the ball twice for 12 yards during the first drive before the franchise's all-time leading rusher exited for good.

–While the offense started mostly familiar faces, the defense had a new look, particularly among the front seven: Mike Purcell replaced Ian Williams at nose tackle; Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie filled in for Ray McDonald and Justin Smith at defensive tackle; Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland were in for Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (rehabbing) at linebacker; and Perrish Cox played for Tramaine Brock (rehabbing) and alongside Chris Culliver at cornerback.

–Broncos wideout Wes Welker bested rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward for Manning's first completion of the game. Ward made the tackle on the play and would co-lead the team in takedowns with seven overall.

–Aside from Gore, the 49ers offense stuck with its starters for the second drive, going five-wide at one point.

–By the start of the unit's third series, Blaine Gabbert replaced Kaepernick under center. Gabbert, who struggled last week in Baltimore against the Ravens, proceeded to complete two straight passes to Ellington. The drive ended in a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Dawson, his second errant attempt of the game.

–Defensive tackle Tank Carradine, who is competing for a backup spot along the line, forced a fourth down with a near-sack of backup Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler late in the second quarter.

–Gabbert was looking for wideout Quinton Patton midway through the third quarter when Broncos cornerback Tony Carter jumped in front for the interception. He finished 8-of-14 for 40 yards passing.

Josh Johnson, another resever signal-caller competing for time, replaced Gabbert on the next drive. On his second play from scrimmage, he tripped during his drop-back and, after getting to his feet, fumbled the ball.

–Rookie cornerback Kenneth Acker, a fifth-round draft pick who will be challenged to crack the 53-man roster, made a nice pass break-up on a would-be touchdown toss to Broncos wideout Greg Wilson late in the third quarter. During the same possession, Acker also induced a pass-interference penalty in the end zone and had a deflected interception wiped away by an offside penalty.

–The 49ers turned the ball over a third time when wideout David Reed fumbled during his kickoff return to start the fourth quarter. 

–The fourth turnover: Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson was intercepted by linebacker Steven Johnson after tight end Asante Cleveland deflected the pass. Later in the quarter, Bethel-Thompson completed a 48-yard, defender-tipped pass to his other young tight end, Kevin Greene.

–Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider was among the scouts representing other NFL teams in the Levi's® Stadium press box.

–Foghorn energizer of the game: Jim McKnight, who has performed the same duty for the Golden Gate Bridge for 28 years. The landmark's chief electrical engiengineer – he grew up going to games at Kezar Stadium – became the first person to "energize" or sound off the 49ers foghorns before kickoff.

–The 49ers paid homage to Robin Williams on the stadium's 200-feet-tall video boards. Williams, a longtime fan, passed away on Monday.

The advance: The 49ers return to work on Monday, when they will get ready to host another AFC West opponent in an exhibition. The San Diego Chargers are coming to town. It will be interesting to see whether expected starters like Brock and Willis – and now Bethea – are healthy enough to play in the third preseason game, typically the game in which starters see the most action.

The review: Readers, we're working on a new layout for game stories this season, and we thought the preseason would be good proving ground. What do you think of the "Gamer" as we have it now? What would you like to see? Let us know in the comment section below.

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