On a night in which key starters sat out of action to rest up for the regular season, the 49ers backups tried not to do resting of any sort. For only a 15-minute period, they didn't have the type of performance they'd like to remember, but they made up for it in the end.
For the other 45 minutes, the backups carried over the play from the 49ers three preseason victories to beat the visiting San Diego Chargers 17-14 Thursday night at Candlestick Park.
After giving up a 10-0 first half lead and being outscored 14-0 in the third quarter, the 49ers reserves dug down deep to come from behind for the second time in as many weeks.
"I'm very thankful the preseason is over," head coach Mike Singletary said to begin his postgame remarks. "I thought it was OK. It was a good game to win, a good game to close out on.
"Some of those cuts are going to be tougher after tonight."
The effort from the backups looking to make the 53-man roster was enough to finish the preseason undefeated and snap a three-game exhibition losing streak to the Chargers, a team the 49ers have faced every preseason for the last 24 years.
Without the services of four starters on offense (quarterback Alex Smith, tight end Vernon Davis, wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tackle Joe Staley), the 49ers totaled 287 yards and converted only 3-of-11 third down attempts.
And while Singletary previously stressed how he didn't care about the final result, but rather if his team would improve, the win gave the head coach an idea of what the team needs to work on before the regular season opener on Sept., 12.
"The most important thing is we know we have a lot of detail work," Singletary said. "I'm looking forward to that and getting into the rhythm of the regular season."
Unlike the offense, the 49ers had their entire first-team defense intact to start the game, including nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who saw his first action of 2010. The 317 pounder even made a solo tackle on the third play from scrimmage.
"It felt good to get around with the guys and get that game atmosphere, knock a little bit more of the rust off," Franklin said of his preseason debut.
With Franklin in the lineup, the defense looked to be in solid form playing their first snaps as a full unit on San Diego's opening possession.
At least it seemed that way up until backup running back Mike Tolbert picked up 32 yards on a third-and-10 from the Chargers' own 23-yard line. It carried San Diego into 49ers territory but not on to the scoreboard. The 49ers forced a turnover on downs after Tolbert's big gain and put the offense in position to take the lead.
David Carr took the snaps first for the 49ers offense with Smith taking the night off. Although the veteran signal caller started last week 0-for-7, he fared much better against San Diego by completing his first three passes.
"It's always nice to get in there early and get right into it," Carr said. "Sometimes it's hard to come off the bench and sit there for a while and watch the first couple of snaps."
Following Carr's fast start, Anthony Dixon picked up his fourth preseason rushing touchdown in as many games, taking a handoff 46 yards through the heart of the Chargers rush defense. Dixon's touchdown capped an impressive, five-play, 80-yard drive which saw the 49ers covert four first downs in just 2:45.
"It was a toss and I was just reading my blocks," the sixth-round pick said. "I was supposed to read the tight end and he was wide, but I just cut back and kept on cutting.
"My receivers were blocking good for me downfield and I just found a crease in the end zone."
When Carr got the ball for a second time late in the first quarter, the veteran signal caller relied on Dixon twice to covert a short yardage situation, but San Diego's defense did an excellent job of stuffing both attempts.
The Chargers seemed to be making good use of the defensive stop, but that was until backup quarterback Billy Volek was intercepted by outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who tipped a pass at the line to himself and returned it 25 yards to the Chargers' 38-yard line.
"I got to give a shout out to my DBs and other linebackers for covering and allowing me time to get back there," Lawson said of the play. "I got my hand in the way and tipped the ball and it floated in the air. All it was after that was just catching it."
Thanks to Lawson's impressive takeaway, Carr looked to build off the 49ers opening scoring drive. But when Dominique Zeigler seemed to make an incredible one-handed touchdown catch from seven yards out, it was too good to be true.
San Diego challenged the ruling on the field and forced the 49ers to tack on just three more points with a 25-yard Joe Nedney field goal. That would be it for Carr. He finished the game 5-for-6 for 58 yards with a quarterback rating of 106.9.
Volek looked to be moving the Chargers down the field again, but was intercepted for the second consecutive drive. This time, rookie safety Taylor Mays picked off Volek's pass in the 49ers end zone. Afterward, Mays broke out in a dance routine which rivaled Reggie Smith's celebration in Indianapolis.
"He was nowhere near me," Smith said of the dance comparison. "Mine was a lot better, it was planned out. His was in the spur of the moment. I think he got hit in the chin and was a little woozy. But when he got up he just did something at the last second."
With the 49ers looking to add to their lead late in the first half, Nate Davis' pass intended for tight end Nate Byham was bobbled and intercepted by linebacker Brandon Siler. The turnover was the only major downside to a solid opening 30 minutes of 49ers football.
The 49ers picked up 10 first downs, averaged 6.7 yards per carry and forced two turnovers in the first half. Anthony Dixon's 46-yard touchdown did a lot of damage, but the preseason rushing leader did well on his other runs, totaling 80 yards on his 12 first-half carries. That would be all the action he would get in the game, a rib injury sidelined the rookie runner for the entire second half.
Midway through the third quarter, the Chargers got on the board when wide receiver Jeremy Williams returned an Andy Lee punt 93 yards for a touchdown.
After the first of two Nate Davis interceptions thrown in the second half, the Chargers wasted no time taking their first lead of the game. Backup running back Curtis Brinkley capped a four-play, 59-yard scoring drive with a two-yard run over the top of the line of scrimmage to give San Diego a 14-10 lead.
In the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Davis completed his deepest pass of the evening, a 29 yarder to rookie receiver Kevin Jurovich which set up the 49ers first-and-goal from their own eight-yard line.
The 49ers eventually cashed in when Davis completed a two-yard touchdown to fullback Jehuu Caulcrick, who walked in untouched for a 49ers touchdown. The score capped a 12-play, 81-yard drive, reminiscent of the 49ers game-winning march last week in Oakland that lasted 16 plays and went 80 yards for a go-ahead Dixon touchdown.
"It was a long drive, we had some setbacks with some penalties, but it overall it was good to end it with a score," Caulcrick said. "It was definitely a good feeling to do that in the last preseason game when you're trying to display your talents. I just tried to leave everything on the field tonight."
A Chargers comeback appeared to be slammed shut when second-year safety Curtis Taylor stripped Williams inside of Chargers territory late in the game. But as soon as it looked to be going the 49ers way, Caulcrick fumbled the ball back to San Diego inside the 10-yard line.
On their final possession, the Chargers moved into field goal range, which was inconsequential at that particular stage of the game. With San Diego needing three points for the tie, head coach Norv Turner elected to go for a game-winning touchdown.
Backup Jonathon Crompton was picked off by undrafted rookie cornerback Tramaine Brock to seal the 49ers victory. It was the defense's fourth takeaway of the game and a fitting end to a successful 2010 preseason.