San Francisco 49ers

Grading the 49ers’ preseason finale: Fourth-string QB a surprise; running game weak

The 49ers ended their exhibition schedule with a last-second, 23-21 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers. Here’s how San Francisco graded out while sitting the vast majority of their expected Week 1 starters.

Passing offense: C+

The 49ers got off to a rough start, netting just one first down (via penalty) and minus-3 yards on their first three possessions. But Nick Mullens rebounded from another fumble deep in San Francisco territory by orchestrating a 75-yard scoring drive. He entered the break completing 5 of 8 throws, including a 21-yarder to reserve tight end Ross Dwelley to set up his rushing touchdown. Mullens finished 10 of 17 for 106 yards with no touchdown throws and no interceptions. Rookie wideout Richie James had a game-high seven receptions for 80 yards, and drew a pass interference penalty that set up running back Jeff Wilson’s touchdown in the third quarter. Jack Heneghan, the fourth-string quarterback who didn’t receive any practice reps during training camp, led touchdown drives on his two possessions, finishing 8 of 9 for 58 yards.

Rushing offense: D

The 49ers averaged 2.9 yards on their first 11 carries. Mullens was their leading rusher with 19 yards on three attempts, including his 4-yard zone-read keeper to get San Francisco on the board. Raheem Mostert, who entered the night a favorite for a roster spot for his work on special teams, logged just eight yards on five carries. Alfred Morris was given just two carries, for five yards, before being pulled. His roster spot appears safe. Jeremy McNichols fumbled leading to a Chargers touchdown, and failed to convert a fourth-down run near the goal line in the third quarter, though he rushed for the go-ahead six-yard score in the fourth. He finished with a team-high 27 yards on eight carries.

Passing defense: B-

The Chargers didn’t get much going through the air in the first half. Geno Smith and Cardale Jones combined to throw for 25 yards while completing 5 of 7 attempts. Ronald Blair III, who appears to be on the roster bubble, and reserve tackle Will Sutton were each credited with first-half sacks. Jullian Taylor logged a sack in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles minimized their passing game by attempting just 16 throws in the game. They wound up completing 11 for 71 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers were credited with just one pass breakup and no interceptions.

Rushing defense: C-

The Chargers ran the ball well, amassing 94 yards on their first 21 carries (compared to just seven first-half passing plays). They were confident enough in the running game to give Terrell Watson a carry with four seconds remaining in the half, scoring a touchdown as time expired. Reuben Foster played three series, logging two tackles. Solomon Thomas played one possession, registering two tackles for loss on running plays. The Chargers finished with 140 yards on 32 carries (4.4 average).

Special teams: B

Bradley Pinion averaged 48 yards on his two punts, Richie James had a 22-yard punt return to the Chargers’ 30-yard line that set up a touchdown. Robbie Gould didn’t attempt a field goal, but made all three extra points.

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