SANTA CLARA – Midway through the first quarter Sunday, nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward gave up a 15-yard pass to the Broncos' slot receiver. Of course, he happened to be competing against “a legend” on the play.
That's what Ward, the 49ers' first-round draft pick, called Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
“A very smart player,” Ward said after the game. “I feel like he’s an extra coach on the field for them. Just off of that game, just the couple plays that he played, he switched the play a couple times. Something he saw on the defense. Somebody gave it away, I don’t know who, but I’ll see the film later. I just feel like just going up against him and (receiver) Wes Welker, too, is really going to get me better at the end of the day.”
Ward emerged from his lesson relatively unscathed.
After lining up at the nickel spot through the first one and a half quarterbacks, he switched to strong safety – pairing with Craig Dahl – with the second-team unit. He finished tied with a game-high seven tackles, and now he can say he's played against perhaps the top quarterback in the game.
“I mean if there’s any way to get introduced into the league, it’s to play against Peyton Manning and his receiving corps,” fellow safety Eric Reid said of Ward. “I think he learned a lot today, and I think he’s going to watch that tape and improve from that too.”
Another rookie defensive back, sixth-round pick Kenneth Acker, also stood out.
During a sequence in the third quarter, Acker batted away a deep pass in the end zone, drew an offensive pass-interference penalty and then appeared to haul in a tipped pass for an interception. The last play, however, was called back because of a 49ers penalty.
Acker, who played at SMU, said he spent the first two weeks of training camp in learning mode. Since then he's taken off, and he had two interceptions during practice on Wednesday.
“The coaches sat us all down after the first game and really talked to us how everyone has a chance to be on the team and there's an opportunity for us to make a play on any play,” Acker said. “My first couple of weeks were a learning experience. Now it's time to play.”
Bethea suffers concussion – Starting safety Antoine Bethea suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was replaced by Dahl. Bethea was the team's biggest free-agent acquisition, and he and fellow starter Reid recently drew praise from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for the way they played during the three days of joint practices with the Ravens in Baltimore.
Bethea, 30, played eight years in Indianapolis. He hasn't missed a game in the last six seasons. Reid, meanwhile, suffered two concussion last seasons but did not miss a start.
Bethea's concussion appeared to be the only serious injury for San Francisco. Receiver Devon Wiley also was checked for a concussion but was cleared to return to the game.
Dawson's dubious debut – Kicker Phil Dawson has been fretting about the wind and weather at the 49ers' new stadium since he arrived last season. His performance Sunday won't allow him him sleep any easier.
Going into a breeze in the first quarter, Dawson was short and wide right from 55 yards. He also missed – wide right – with the wind at his back from 44 yards.
One thing to keep in mind: He also missed a 44-yarder in his first game at Candlestick Park in last year's preseason home opener. He went on to hit 32 of 36 attempts in the regular season, including a franchise record 27 straight.
Et cetera – For the second straight game, Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland started at inside linebacker. Wilhoite tied Ward with a game-high seven tackles. Borland had five stops.
* Rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch played his first game of the preseason. He finished with two tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.
* Throughout the game, clips of Robin Williams in his most famous roles were shown on the video screens at Levi's Stadium and drew applause from the crowd. Williams was found dead in his Tiburon home last week from an apparent suicide.