The lead:* *The regular season is finally here.
The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their four-game preseason schedule on Thursday night against the Texans. With just three projected starters opening the game on the team's offensive and defensive units, it was depth that showed through in a 40-13 victory.
Backups made big plays.
There were Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson with touchdown passes here, cornerback Chris Cook and linebacker Chris Borland with interceptions there.
No, if you tuned in for this exhibition, you didn't see Colin Kaepernick connecting with Michael Crabtree or even Joe Staley lining up behind Justin Smith.
This game was for key reserves to shake off the rust; for backups to put their best on tape; and for rookies to prove they belong.
We'll see what affect this game had when San Francisco makes its Opening Day roster choices this weekend.
The quote:* *"They're never easy," Jim Harbaugh said of upcoming roster cuts. "But this is about the excitement of tonight, of guys playing the game the way it is supposed to be played and having a lot of fun doing it... Some of the starters didn't get to play. That was a decision to keep them from that kind of fun. I feel bad for that, for them, but some of the other guys got to have the best game of their career with us."
The injury report:* *Tight end Derek Carrier (hamstring) was ruled out of the game at halftime.
The scoring:Full stats here.
The notes:* *Defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie, safety Craig Dahl, tight end Garrett Celek, offensive guard Joe Looey and outside linebacker Corey Lemonier represented the team as captains.
- The starting defense comprised linemen Jerod-Eddie, Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs; linebackers Borland, Nick Moody, Chase Thomas and Lemonier; cornerbacks Cook and Darryl Morris; safeties Dahl and C.J. Spillman. Borland, who has been competing with Michael Wilhoite for the right to replace NaVorro Bowman, led the pre-snap huddle. Williams was the only projected starter for the regular season to play in the game.
3. The starting offense comprised quarterback Blaine Gabbert; running back LaMichael James; wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Quinton Patton; tight ends McDonald and Carrier; and linemen Carter Bykowski, Adam Snyder, Daniel Kilgore, Looney and Jonathan Martin (from left to right). Kilgore and Looney were the only projected starters to be in at the start, but fullback Bruce Miller also entered the game during the offense's first series.
4. James had the first crack at punt returns and kickoff returns. Wideout Bruce Ellington returned a punt for 44 yards in the fourth quarter.
5. Rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson, who was not assured of a roster spot, broke up a third-down Case Keenum pass in the first quarter and later made four tackles on one series.
6. Defensive tackle Garrett Celek hit Keenum twice in the opening period. Carradine nearly brought down another reserve Texans quarterback, Tom Savage, on Houston's first series of the second quarter.
7. During their final series of the first quarter, Gabbert and rookie running back Pierre Garçon successfully ran a flea-flicker that resulted in a nine-yard run from Gabbert, but the gain was nullified by a holding penalty.
- During a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, Gabbert connected with Carrier for a 32-yard throw-and-catch, as the ball fit through two Texans defenders. Gabbert finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown toss to tight end Asante Cleveland.
9. In a two-play stretch before halftime, the 49ers extended their lead to 14-6. Cook picked off Keenum. On the ensuing play, Johnson replaced Gabbert at quarterback and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ellington. Gabbert finished the night 4-of-11 for 60 yards passing.
10. A 28-yard field goal from Phil Dawson to start the third quarter gave San Francisco a 17-6 edge before Borland's 34-yard pick-six on the ensuing Houston possession put the visitors up, 24-6.
11. Johnson, who threw a pick-six to Texans cornerback Andre Hal in the third quarter, redeemed himself in the fourth with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end/long snapper Kyle Nelson, making the score 31-13.
12. The offense had success with a two-running back backfield with reserves Glenn Winston and Alfonso Smith sharing the field at times.
13. Veteran special teamer Kassim Osgood blocked a Texans punt midway through the fourth quarter, giving the 49ers a safety and the ball back.
The advance:* *The 49ers will be back home in Santa Clara on Friday before making a return trip to Texas for their Sept. 7 regular season opener opposite the Dallas Cowboys. In between, general manager Trent Baalke and Co. must decide on their 53-man roster. And the 53 that are still standing upon the NFL-mandated deadline on Saturday won't necessarily be the 53 that go to Dallas. You can bet that Baalke and his crew will be working the waiver wire just like every other front office around the league. Something to consider: Because of their record last season, the Texans enter this season with the highest waiver priority. Given the 49ers depth, some of the players they'll cut could end up in Houston.
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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