A 49ers preseason game finally resembled the team's practices. Adhering to the adage that the third preseason game is the most important of the team's four warm-ups, Kyle Shanahan actually game-planned for Sunday's meeting with the Vikings and dipped a little deeper into his playbook than he had the previous two contests. The result was a quick, 14-0 lead -- in a game San Francisco would lose 32-31 -- with the two offensive MVPs of training camp, Brian Hoyer and Marquise Goodwin, connecting on a 46-yard touchdown strike on the opening drive.
Hoyer also had strong chemistry with receiver Pierre Garcon, who led all receivers with six catches for 64 yards. Hoyer, who was 9-9 to start the game, also had a nice throw to Carlos Hyde, who hardly has been a dangerous pass-catching threat early in his career, on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Hoyer was 12-17 for 176 yards and a 143.3 passer rating before giving way to rookie C.J. Beathard to start the second half.
After gaining 89 yards in the first preseason game against Kansas City, running back Raheem Mostert had 130 total yards, including an 87-yard catch and run from Beathard for a touchdown and another short running touchdown. Anyone who lands one of the 49ers' last roster spots will have to be a contributor on special teams and Mostert has been one of the regulars on those units. He and Don Jones served as the gunners on punt coverage in the first half.
Mostert was the third running back in the game behind Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida, who again looked strong in runs up the middle. Joe Williams also got into the game late. The arrangement was the same as the first week against Kansas City, suggesting that Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs will get the bulk of the carries in the preseason finale Thursday vs. the Chargers.
Left tackle Joe Staley left the game early with what was reported as a knee injury, but the 49ers are optimistic it isn’t serious. Shanahan said team doctors would take a closer look when they return to Santa Clara. Second-year player John Theus entered in his place and seemed solid if not spectacular. He played 50 snaps, the most for the offense. The second-team offensive line consisted of: LT Theus, LG Andrew Gardner, C Erik Magnuson, RG JP Flynn, RT Garry Gilliam.
The 49ers' defense also was more complex than it had been in the first two games. On obvious -- very obvious -- passing situations, for example, they added a third safety and sent linebacker NaVorro Bowman to the sideline. Elvis Dumervil also dropped back and played a quasi inside linebacker role on one third-and-very long scenario. He was acting as a spy if the Vikings dumped off to the running back.
With Jimmie Ward (hamstring) out, Jaquiski Tartt started the game at free safety ahead of rookie Lorenzo Jerome, who entered in dime packages. Jerome played the second half and ended up with a team-high 55 snaps.
Both Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner looked strong. Armstead pressured Sam Bradford on an early pass play, sacked him a little later and then drew a holding penalty. Buckner, meanwhile, appears to have recovered from the ankle injury that sidelined him the last two games. He was disruptive in the middle of the line and also made a tackle at the sideline. Buckner (ankle), Aaron Lynch (ankle) and Ronald Blair (groin) all played after missing last week's game against Denver.
Linebacker Reuben Foster led all tacklers with eight stops, including a couple of big hits in which he jolted Vikings ball carriers with his right shoulder. Which is to say, his surgically repaired shoulder got its biggest test of the year and seems fine. Dumervil, meanwhile, was extremely disruptive in his half of play.
Eli Harold and Dekoda Watson both paid tribute to Ahmad Brooks by jumping offsides in the first half (h/t, Jeff Deeney). Harold started the game at strong-side linebacker but Watson ended up playing nearly as many snaps. That was a theme as the 49ers rotated heavily throughout the period. Solomon Thomas, for example, started the game at defensive end instead of Tank Carradine with the two rotating from that point forth. Thomas played 23 snaps; Carradine played 8 snaps.
Earl Mitchell also rotated with D.J. Jones at nose tackle. Jones got into the game ahead of Quinton Dial, who was the No. 3 defensive tackle behind Buckner and Chris Jones.
Nickel cornerback K'Waun Williams appeared to get nicked when he and Bowman collided on a tackle. With Will Redmond (ankle) out for the game, Asa Jackson entered as the nickel cornerback and played 53 snaps. He did so ahead of Keith Reaser, who played outside cornerback with the second-team defense opposite Ahkello Witherspoon.
Eric Reid not only kneeled during the national anthem -- after saying on multiple occasions he wouldn't -- he kissed his biceps in a tribute to Colin Kaepernick after a big hit in the first half. It's the second straight game Reid has been able to show that his new strong safety spot suits his size and strength. Afterward, Shanahan said he had no issues with Reid’s act and the safety even got twitter support from team owner Jed York.
Jeremy Kerley was the top punt returner; Trent Taylor came in next. Taylor again was efficient on offense, catching all three of the passes that went his way. In fact, Taylor has caught all six of the passes that have gone his way in the preseason. ... Vinnie Sunseri will be a tough guy to cut. He can play both free and strong safety, and perhaps more important, he is on nearly every special teams unit, including the fullback on punts and the personal protector on punt returns. The guy who does that usually makes the team.