OAKLAND – Offense, defense and special teams all showed up to make a difference in the 49ers third preseason win of 2010, but it wasn't quite to Mike Singletary's liking.
Early defensive lapses mixed with offensive penalties put the 49ers in comeback mode to begin with. But all was forgotten thanks to a late one-yard touchdown by rookie Anthony Dixon followed by a two-point conversion which sealed the 49ers 28-24 come-from-behind win over the Oakland Raiders Saturday night.
The result was a positive, but the overall performance was one the 49ers head coach would like to improve on.
"We have to make sure every time we go out whether it's the defense, the offense or special teams, as a team, there is a standard we are striving to play at every time we step on the field," Singletary said in his postgame press conference. "I don't care if we're playing in the street, playing in the preseason, I don't care if it's the regular season. We have to make sure that we understand the level of excellence we're striving for and that has to be exhibited any time we step anywhere to play."
The 49ers defense took the field first at the Coliseum looking to build off a solid home performance against the Vikings last Sunday. The Raiders had other ideas.
Oakland took an early 7-0 lead thanks to a hot start by quarterback Jason Campbell, but that was all the production the 49ers would allow from the former Washington Redskins signal caller.
After Oakland's first scoring drive, Campbell and the Raiders were held to four consecutive three-and-outs and Campbell was sacked twice, the second of which knocked him out of the game.
Mid-way through the second quarter, outside linebacker Travis LaBoy beat Raiders left tackle Mario Henderson around the edge and landed on Campbell's upper body as he finished the play. Campbell stayed down for an extended period of time and was eventually carted off the field.
The sack wasn't the 49ers biggest momentum change of the first half however, that was provided by special teams, specifically rookie cornerback Phillip Adams.
The seventh-round pick out of South Carolina State returned Shane Lechler's 57-yard punt 83 yards through the heart of the Raiders punt coverage team and into the end zone for the 49ers first touchdown of the game with 9:41 left in the second quarter. It gave the 49ers a 10-7 lead.
"That was a game-changer," safety Dashon Goldson said. "The momentum was definitely on their side, but that play turned it. That's something that has to be done. It was a big play from our special teams."
The offense added to the lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first half when Alex Smith completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Morgan. The drive featured the debut of new 49ers running back Brian Westbrook, who picked up 17 yards on a draw when the 49ers faced a third-and-six.
Thanks to Westbrook's effort, Smith was able to find Morgan four plays later wide open in the end zone. Smith did a nice job of locating the third-year wideout while rolling to his right to cap the offense's second scoring drive of the first half.
Smith only played in the opening 30 minutes, giving way to backup David Carr for the duration of the second half. Singletary liked what he saw from Smith's 9-of-15 performance for 113 yards with a passer rating of 105.7. But Smith felt it could have been better.
"We didn't finish in the red zone. Obviously, we had to settle for the two field goal attempts and then finally got one there at the end of the first half which was nice," Smith said. "We have to finish better… For the third preseason game, we have to be cleaner, especially on offense."
Prior to his injury, Campbell started spot-on, completing his first four passes for 67 yards, leading Oakland on a nine-play, 81-yard touchdown drive which was finished off with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Michael Bush.
After the 49ers picked up a first down, Frank Gore immediately responded to Bush's successful start.
On his first carry from scrimmage, Gore followed the blocks of Mike Iupati and Joe Staley for a 49-yard gain down the left sideline. Ted Ginn Jr. also provided excellent down-field blocking for the 49ers Pro Bowl running back.
"Our O-line and Moran Norris did a great job down field, it was there and I hit it," said Gore, who rushed for 58 yards on two carries in his first preseason action of 2010. "I was patient and I exploded through."
The 49ers were unable to capitalize on the drive when Joe Nedney missed a 37-yard field goal wide right, but the veteran placekicker converted his next attempt in the second quarter from 28 yards out.
Adams' return and Morgan's touchdown grab gave the 49ers a much needed boost, and more importantly, seemingly a significant amount of momentum just before halftime.
That would soon change.
Leading the Raiders by 10 points with less than two minutes in the first half, the 49ers defense made a fatal mistake. They left wide receiver Louis Murphy run free and got burned.
Bruce Gradkowski, filling in for Campbell, brought the Raiders back into the game with one single pass, a 74-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Murphy. The 49ers only rushed four on the play, but still gave up the deep score, despite having the clock on their side (49 seconds to be exact).
The touchdown brought new life to Oakland's sideline, which was previously a somber environment after seeing Campbell get injured. Gradkowski would rally the Raiders in the second half, completing 14-of-22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"There is no way they should have scored 21 points on our first team. We just have to go back and get better at practice," Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley said. "We just need more attention to detail."
Gradkowski continued to march the Raiders down the field to start the third quarter against most of the 49ers first-team defense. He found tight end Zach Miller for a 27-yard touchdown on a post in front of the coverage of safety Michael Lewis.
After Oakland was penalized on the ensuing kickoff, rookie wide receiver Kevin Jurovich returned the next Sebastian Janikowski offering out to the Raiders 48-yard line setting up the 49ers with excellent field position.
With the ball inside Raider territory, Carr led the 49ers on a seven-play scoring drive capped off by a 38-yard field goal by backup kicker Shane Andrus.
Carr did more than lead the 49ers two drives later; he took the game in his hands, leaping for a first-down with less than six minutes remaining in the game. Carr couldn't find an open receiver, instead he elected to tuck it and lunge in the air over a a Raiders linebacker.
The play not only saved the drive, but revitalized the rest of the 49ers offensive huddle.
"We were fighting, and when our quarterback took that leap of faith he took – that was awesome," Dixon said. "That pumped us up. I was getting tired, but when I saw him do that, something came over me. I was going to keep on pushing."
Dixon eventually pushed his way into the end zone from a yard out and finished with a game-high 69 yards on 21 carries. The booth challenged Dixon's third touchdown of the preseason, but the visual evidence was not enough to overturn the call.
Carr finished the 49ers scoring by completing a two-point conversion to rookie tight end Nate Byham.
"We're in a preseason game, so let's not do anything that makes it go to overtime," Carr said of the thinking behind the two-point attempt. "Make it or not, it was on the defense. And they did a great job of stopping them."
The Raiders had one last possession inside 49ers territory with less than two minutes remaining, but safety Reggie Smith broke up Gradkowski's deep ball intended for Todd Watkins.
"I felt like I had to do something to make up for the touchdown I gave up before halftime," Smith said. "I was happy to make up for it. You're not going to win perfect every time, but we got the W and that was our main focus."