NaVorro Bowman’s highly-anticipated first snaps inside of Levi’s® Stadium took place on Sunday night.
The star inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers made a triumphant return in a 23-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2 of the preseason.
Bowman’s performance galvanized a 49ers team to its first exhibition victory under new coach Jim Tomsula.
But No. 53 wasn’t the only player worth highlighting.
Here's what we learned from the home victory.
Bowman suits up and shows up
If there were any question about Bowman's impact on San Francisco's starting defense, look no further than the three-play sequence in which the former All-Pro 'backer was in on every tackle.
Bowman recorded three tackles (two for loss) on Tony Romo's only drive of the game. Bowman met new Cowboys running back Darren McFadden in the hole and dropped him for a 1-yard gain on first down. Bowman and fellow starting inside linebacker Nick Moody helped bring down McFadden for a 1-yard loss on second down. To close the drive out, Bowman chased down Dallas running back Lance Dunbar in the left flat and tackled him for a 1-yard loss.
Bowman's three-play, three-tackle series was all Tomsula needed to see. Shayne Skov replaced the defensive leader for Dallas' second possesion. But all in all, it was a great return to the field for San Francisco's star defender. Kap and the first offense gets first points of preseason
View the top photos from San Francisco's matchup against Dallas in the first game at Levi's Stadium of 2015.
Colin Kaepernick and the first-team offense saw the field for two drives against the Cowboys.
The first possesion was greatly impacted by a 27-yard punt return by Australian rugby league import Jarryd Hayne. With the ball at midfield, Kaepernick and the first unit were able to move down into the red zone thanks to some big runs by Carlos Hyde. The second-year runner broke off a 17-yard gain to put the 49ers in scoring position.
Five plays later, San Francisco took a third-down shot in the end zone, but Cowboys cornerback Corey White was able to break up a Kaepernick pass intended for Torrey Smith.
As a result, Phil Dawson connected on a 25-yard field goal to finish off a 13-play, 51-yard scoring drive which took 5 minutes and 24 seconds off the clock and gave San Francisco the first points of the game. Hyde supplied 33 yards on the drive (27 rushing, 6 receiving).
The first unit did go three-and-out on its second and final possesion of the game, but it was a step in the right direction to get a scoring drive against a playoff-caliber opponent. The only setback from the night was the announcement of tight end Vance McDonald injuring his ankle after a 7-yard reception on the opening drive.
Young cornerbacks get valuable snaps
A pair of 2014 draft picks saw significant playing time against Dallas.
Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker, fifth- and sixth-round selections, respectively, were on the field on San Francisco's first defensive drive. Bowman's appearance might have earned the national headlines, but it's also significant news that Reaser lined up opposite of Tramaine Brock as a starting cornerback. Acker came on the field on third down as the team's third cornerback. Brock slid inside, as Reaser and Acker manned the perimeter spots.
Both second-year players stayed on the field with the second-team defense as base cornerbacks. Acker recorded one tackle and one pass breakup in the first half.
In addition to the young cornerbacks on the field in the early third-down scenario, defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Darnell Dockett, plus rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt saw the field on San Francisco's first third-down scenario.
The wide-ranging use of personnel shows that defensive coordinator Eric Mangini is seeking out ways to utilize all of his key defenders and not just base-down performers.
Hayne continues to impact the game
A strong punt return can greatly benefit the offense.
Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert know all about that after Sunday's matchup with the Cowboys.
Hayne's first three touches on punt return went for gains of 27, 34 and 23 yards. The rookie running back showed off nifty cut-back skills on his returns, too. Hayne finished the first half averaging 28 yards per punt return. His third return helped Gabbert and the second offense get on the board with a 33-yard Dawson field goal.
Rookie wideout DeAndrew White took over the punt return duties for Hayne in the second quarter.
Hayne made a splash last week against the Houston Texans with his 51-yard rush and impressive special teams returns. In his home stadium, the rookie continued his development by helping his offensive teammates start drives with better field position.
In San Francisco's second drive of the second half, Hayne picked up a 34-yard gain down the left sideline on a third-and-short play. The long run put the 49ers in field-goal range and set up a 38-yard kick by rookie Corey Acosta. Hayne's punt returns and long run were key moments as the home team built up a 16-0 lead in the third quarter.
Hayne led all ball carriers with 54 rushing yards on eight carries (6.8 yards per carry). Sunday's performance, which included a face-mask penalty against the NFL newcomer, was another positive experience for the football newcomer to build on.
In two preseason games, Hayne has 11 carries for 117 rushing yards (10.6 yards per carry).
Trio of interceptions keep Dallas at bay
Mike Purcell had his moment last week against the Texans with a two-tackle showing during a goal-line stand. Against the other Texas football franchise, Purcell picked off Cowboys quarterback Dustin Vaughan and returned it 37 yards for a pick-six.
Vaughan saw early action after Dallas backup Brandon Weeden left the game due to a blow to the head.
From his nose tackle position, Purcell correctly read Vaughan's short throw, but even better than the takeaway was how the 6-foot-3, 303-pound defensve lineman used a nifty cut-back move and broke another tackle on his way into the end zone.
Later in the second quarter, veteran safety Craig Dahl intercpeted a Vaughan pass by wrestling the ball away from its intended target.
Both interceptions ensured that the 49ers would go into halftime leading 13-0.
Dontae Johnson recorded San Francisco's third interception of the night late in the fourth quarter, again muscling the pass away from the would-be receiver for the pick.
- Third-year wide receiver Quinton Patton blocked a fourth-quarter punt and scooped up the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Patton's scoring play put the home team up 23-0 with 12:46 left to play. It was also finished with an excellent celebration in which the young wideout leaped up on top of the railing to celebrate with the home fans.
- Rookie punter Bradley Pinion handled kickoff duties in the first half. Dawson got his reps in the second half.
- The second-team offensive line with Gabbert was as follows: left tackle Patrick Miller, left guard Andrew Tiller, center Dillon Farrell, right guard Ian Silberman and right tackle Trent Brown.
- Tartt and second-year safety L.J. McCray delivered agressive open-field tackles in the third quarter after long Dallas receptions. Tartt will have to take care of his shoulders, as he noted in a pregame interview with 49ers.com.
- Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop and outside linebacker Marcus Rush recorded sacks. Outside linebacker Eli Harold and defensive tackle Quinton Dial shared a sack in the first half.
- Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, linebacker Philip Wheeler, defensive back Jimmie Ward and wide receiver Bruce Ellington did not suit for the game.