The 49ers starting offense seemed to be out of rhythm Saturday night. Perhaps it was the practice time Shaun Hill missed earlier in the week, or maybe it was the malfunctioning radio signal that caused the offense to struggle at times.
Whatever the case was, the 49ers (3-0) came alive in the second half scoring 17 points to come from behind and defeat the Dallas Cowboys 20-13 on the road.
"Coming into this game, the most important thing was to try and be consistent," head coach Mike Singletary said afterwards. "I don't think we really did the things we wanted to do in the first half. But the most important thing is I'm proud that our guys kept fighting."
Although the 49ers were down 10-3 at halftime, they kept competing and managed to come from behind for the second week in a row. Statistics might not show the level of the play the 49ers would like to achieve, but the final score reflects the mentality Singletary wants all of his players to have.
"The No. 1 thing we're trying to do, underneath everything is [have] character," he said. "More than anything, tonight our guys showed character. I can hang my hat on that and move on."
The Cowboys (1-2) outgained the 49ers 377 to 320 yards in their brand new stadium, but fell short when rookie quarterback Nate Davis led the 49ers on an 8-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that lasted 1:19. It was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown from rookie running back Kory Sheets that put the 49ers up for good.
The slashing back showed a physical side of his running game as he took Davis' handoff and broke a couple of tackles between the hashmarks before scoring on the run. Sheets also scored from 1-yard out just before the end of the third quarter to tie the game at 10. He finished the game as the team's leading rusher with 42 yards on 11 carries.
In contrast, the 49ers first-team offense could only put up three points on the scoreboard. Led by Hill, the first-team was outgained 195-102 yards in the first half alone. Hill started the second half, but his drive only produced one first down before a punt. Hill finished the game 9-of-17 for 79 yards.
"I would have liked for it to have gone a bit smoother than it did," Hill said. "You can't tell a whole lot right now. I just wish we could have put a few more points on the board."
Hill said his injured back didn't give him any trouble. And after the game, Singletary revealed the team's radio signal was not working correctly for the quarterbacks in the first half.
But despite experiencing struggles in the air, the 49ers continued to see success with their run game.
"I felt great. I felt fast. I felt strong," Frank Gore said after he carried five times for 19 yards in just one quarter of action. "Even though I wanted to do more, I felt really good in the game. I was happy to be out there, especially against the Cowboys who are supposed to be a top-tier team. Our offensive line did a great job in the little bit of time I worked."
While the offense didn't leave their best effort, the 49ers defensive unit can leave Dallas pleased with their performance after they forced two Dallas turnovers that ended up making a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
The 49ers benefitted significantly from a Mark Roman interception off a Tony Romo pass late in the first quarter. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson got in the face off Romo causing his pass to float in the air long enough for Roman to pick it off just in front of the 49ers end zone. Roman returned the interception 55 yards saving the defense from allowing any points.
The second turnover occurred mid-fourth quarter when backup Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna completed a 6-yard pass to Isaiah Stanback, who was then stripped from behind by newly-signed cornerback Eric Green.
"I saw the route, but I decided not to jump it," Green said. "The first thing I thought of is if the guy was going to catch it, I'd knock the ball out."
Green did just that, punching the ball out of Stanback's possession with his right arm. Safety Reggie Smith came in quickly to fall on the football for the 49ers.
"We were fortunate to get that one," Green said.
Starting their possession at the Dallas 30-yard line, the 49ers got the ball down to the 6-yard line, but Singletary elected to attempt a game-tying field goal rather than try for a first down and potential go-ahead touchdown.
"I wanted to give our guys a chance to win," he explained later.
Singletary's decision, much to the befuddlement of members of the media who cringe at the notion of preseason overtime, ended up paying off. The 49ers held the Cowboys on the next possession and were in position to win the game at the end.
Davis' final touchdown drive almost never happened. If it wasn't for a poorly-timed pass interference penalty on Cowboys safety Courtney Brown, the 49ers wouldn't have been able to put together a scoring drive. On a 3rd-and-10 from the 49ers own 9-yard line, Davis scrambled to his right, somehow avoided Dallas' rush and heaved a pass up for Jason Hill. Brown beat Hill to the ball by knocking him to the ground.
"I got flushed out and I tried to get it to one of our players," Davis recalled.
After the penalty, Davis completed three more passes, including a 34-yard deep crossing route to Micheal Spurlock. The pass put the 49ers in field goal range, but rather than playing it safe, the 49ers elected to run another play and Sheets scored from 9 yards out.
Although the entire game didn't feature the exact effort Singletary was looking for, it ended up showcasing the right characteristics he's been seeking all along.