Check out the best images from Game 1 of the preseason as the San Francisco 49ers face the Houston Texans.
A year ago, Blaine Gabbert began the preseason against the Baltimore Ravens by completing just 3-of-11 passes for 20 yards and an interception.
In the buildup to this week's exhibition opener versus the Houston Texans, Jim Tomsula fielded several questions about the backup quarterback's progress since 2014. The first-year coach responded each time by proclaiming, "I'm a believer in Blaine Gabbert."
Well on Saturday night at NRG Stadium, Gabbert made his coach look mighty smart.
Although the San Francisco 49ers fell to the Texans, 23-10, Gabbert shined in extended action, finishing his evening 8-of-11 passing for 86 yards, a touchdown and a 125.6 passer rating. He led the offense to its only two scoring drives, one of 99 yards and the other 54 yards.
"It was good to see Blaine out there with a nice supporting cast," Tomsula said. "I wanted to see him function like he does in practice. I think he showed that today."
Other bright spots in the game included the defensive line and Jarryd Hayne. The former turned in a wildly impressive goal-line stand while the latter rushed five times for 63 yards in his NFL debut. The Australian import was also strong on special teams, picking up gains of 11 and 13 on his two punt returns and 33 yards in his lone kickoff return.
The 49ers began the game on defense after Phil Dawson officially set the team's 2015 campaign in motion with a booming kickoff that was returned to the Houston 13-yard line.
Shayne Skov and Nick Moody got the starts at the two inside linebacker spots with NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite held out of the contest.
The first-team defense quickly forced a 3rd-and-9 with consecutive stops to open the series. But on the next snap, Texans starting quarterback Brian Hoyer found tight end Garrett Graham in the left flat for a first down.
Five plays later, the Texans made the 49ers pay for not getting off the field as Hoyer connected with Cecil Shorts III over the middle for a 58-yard touchdown strike. Shorts got behind Moody before splitting two defenders in the secondary on the catch-and-run.
With the new extra-point rule in effect (moving the field goal back to the 15-yard line), the Texans opted to go for two after the score. Hoyer threw a back-shoulder fade to DeAndre Hopkins, who snatched the ball at its highest point despite solid coverage from Shareece Wright.
On the team's first offensive possession of the year, Colin Kaepernick and Co. began backed up at the 5-yard line due to a wedge penalty on the kickoff.
Following a holding penalty on first down, Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin in stride for a 14-yard pickup and the only completion of the night for the franchise signal-caller.
Moments later, Kaepernick nearly hit a home run with prized free-agent acquisition Torrey Smith. With a perfect pocket to throw from thanks to the offensive line, the quarterback stepped up and fired the ball deep downfield for the speed wideout. The pass, however, fell a few feet past of the outstretched reach of Smith, who had Texans first-unit defenders Kareem Jackson and Rahim Moore beat on the play.
The drive, Kaepernick's only action of the night, ended on third down when the quarterback felt pressure, scrambled to the right and threw the ball away to avoid a loss.
Rookie punter Bradley Pinion flipped the field with huge hang time on his first NFL kick, allowing L.J. McCray to tackle the returner at the point of the catch for a 49-yard net punt.
After surrendering a touchdown on the Texans first drive of the night, the 49ers first-team defense bent again with Ryan Mallet replacing Hoyer for Houston's second possession. But this time around, the unit did not break. Not by a long shot.
The only changes personnel wise from the starters were Eli Harold replacing Ahmad Brooks and Mike Purcell taking over for Ian Williams.
The Texans needed just five snaps to march from their own 22-yard line into the red zone. The big play saw Alfred Blue run 32 yards down the left sideline before Eric Reid tracked him down to save the touchdown. That tackle proved crucial, as it gave the goal-line defense its opportunity to shine.
The Texans ran seven plays from inside the 49ers 3-yard line but failed to punch it into the end zone. Purcell came up clutch several times, mauling Brandon Brooks at the line of scrimmage and wreaking havoc in the backfield. Purcell's best moment came when he split the A-gap and tackled Blue for a three-yard loss on a snap from the 1-yard line.
The Texans got an extra set of downs when Tramaine Brock was called for a questionable pass interference in the end zone. Still, the 49ers goal-line unit stood strong, stopping the Texans on four consecutive runs from the 1-yard line for a turnover on downs. Reid, Wright, Moody and Skov all were in on the tackle on fourth down.
Taking over in the shadow of his own end zone, backup quarterback Gabbert came out of the gates firing. Gabbert connected with Garrett Celek and Garrett Celek, who started in place of Vernon Davis (coach's decision), on back-to-back plays for a total of 27 yards.
San Francisco's most explosive play of the game came via Hayne, who broke off his 53-yard run on the next snap, narrowly missing a touchdown as he was tripped up at the Houston 13-yard line. Two plays later, the 49ers got their lone touchdown as Gabbert threw a nice pass to Celek, who slipped a tackle and sped into the end zone for the score. Jerome Simpson set up the touchdown by clearing defenders out of the left side of the field with a cross route.
The drive went 99-yards in seven plays over three minutes and 15 seconds.
Gabbert went on to lead the 49ers to another first-half scoring drive, with Dawson hitting a 37-yard field goal. The key play on that series saw Jerome Simpson haul in a 25-yard catch from Gabbert. The 49ers were held scoreless in the second half with rookie quarterback Dylan Thompson leading the huddle. A Jaelen Strong touchdown, a sack of Thompson in the end zone and two Randy Bullock field goals provided the final score.
The only injury the 49ers endured was Desmond Bishop, who sustained a lower leg strain.