Photo credit: @49ers
By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Faithful were rolling into Levi’s Stadium on Thursday hoping to catch a glimpse of what the 2018 season will look like. Fans may have left happy, as the San Francisco 49ers took the lead with just 18 seconds left in the contest in a 24-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but they also left concerned.
One quarter into action, the 49ers were facing injuries to three starters and two critical reserves.
Linebacker, Malcolm Smith was the first to go down with a hamstring injury. Ironically, the eight-year pro was clamoring about how much he was looking forward to getting the pre-season debut out of the way.
Moments later, Soloman Thomas went down on what appeared to be a left knee injury. However, the 49ers’ official injury report listed Thomas with a head injury with speculation that he took a cleat to the face. Thomas laid on the turf for a few minutes to a quiet crowd before going straight to the locker room.
Hopefully, the injury to Thomas won’t set him back too much as he enters a crucial season to show his worth of being selected third overall in the 2017 draft.
George Kittle was the final starter to go down with an injury. On a deep ball from Garoppolo, Kittle was forced to lay out attempting to make the spectacular grab, but he came up short, and upon coming to the ground, his right shoulder got caught underneath his body.
The loss of Kittle could be huge for the 49ers, as he proved to be a big-time target for Garoppolo last season.
Key reserves, Matt Brieda and Garry Gilliam also went down with injuries.
If Brieda’s appears to be serious, it could shake up how the final 53-man roster is completed, as he was expected to be a lock and the primary run between the tackles back.
Shanahan mentioned post-game that he expects there to be time with Brieda and Kittle and both are going to be questionable heading into next Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans at 5 pm PDT.
His injury led to extensive playing time for both Raheem Mostert and Joe Williams, who switched between drives the majority of the game. Williams saw most the carries finishing with 11 for 27 yards and punching in a score from a yard out. Mostert carried the ball eight times for 57 yards including breaking off a long 23-yard rush to the right.
“It’s what scares you about pre-season, sometimes you just want the game to end,” said Shanahan.
Other Key Observations
Jimmie Ward’s move back to cornerback was quickly picked on by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. The starting quarterback’s only touchdown pass was also his last as he threw a 30-yard bomb to Michael Gallup that turned Ward around to put the Cowboys up five minutes into the game.
The starting defense wasn’t completely lost. The biggest play of the starter’s night came on a sack split by DeForest Buckner and Thomas. Buckner, who is starting to experiment moving to the outside on the defensive line, is appearing to become the playmaker the Niners were searching for when they selected him seventh overall in 2016.
Garoppolo was held to just one drive. Going 3-of-6 for 34 yards and a 67.4 rating, Garoppolo found a connection early with Marquise Goodwin for 18 yards. His other two completions were to Jerrick McKinnon and the seventh-round pick, Richie James Jr. More importantly, the completions to Goodwin and James both converted long third-down attempts.
James later scored the go-ahead score with just 18 seconds remaining to win the game for the Niners. Third-string QB, Nick Mullens led a beautiful 77-yard drive in only 1:42 to secure the victory. Mullens was the most efficient Niners’ passer, finishing 11-of-13 for 141 yards, a touchdown, and an interception for a 105.4 passer rating. If he continues to display this type of talent, he may get a shot at C.J. Beathard’s backup role.