SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers picked up right where they left off last season in their preseason opener.
Smith tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brett Swain on the opening possession, backup Colin Kaepernick ran 78 yards for a score on the next and the 49ers breezed past the Minnesota Vikings 17-6 Friday night.
Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and Rock Cartwright combined for 69 yards rushing on the first drive to lead a reloaded running back group for San Francisco (No. 4 in the AP Pro32 rankings) on a night three-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore rested.
Christian Ponder completed 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards, and Toby Gerhart ran for 31 yards for Minnesota (No. 29) in place of rehabbing starter Adrian Peterson. The Vikings offense showed promise everywhere but in the end zone, settling for field goals of 39 and 26 yards by new kicker Blair Walsh in Candlestick Park’s whipping winds.
Randy Moss made his 49ers debut after sitting out last season, though it was hard to notice. The 35-year-old wide receiver, who signed a one-year deal with San Francisco, was never targeted.
In the first game at Candlestick since the overtime loss in the NFC championship to the New York Giants on Jan. 22, Jim Harbaugh’s new-look 49ers hardly had a hangover.
Jacobs, who signed a one-year deal with San Francisco after winning his second Super Bowl with New York, showed his strength in short-yardage situations — a missing element for the 49ers last season — by running for 3 yards on fourth-and-1 from San Francisco’s 47 to extend the opening drive. He added a 23-yard sprint and finished with 31 yards rushing.
San Francisco also received rushes of 19 yards by Cartwright and 14 by Hunter to set up Smith’s short fade to Swain that finished off the first-team’s only possession. The 13-play, 68-yard drive lasted 6:07 and resembled the kind of grind-it-out fight that helped the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season last year and the franchise’s first playoff appearance in a decade.
For a team that relied so much on defense a year ago, the offensive blitz — even for the preseason — could go a long way to lift San Francisco’s spirits.
Kaepernick, the former Nevada quarterback drafted 36th overall last year, kept a read-option on his second play from scrimmage for a 78-yard touchdown, sprinting down the right side almost uncontested. He stiff-armed cornerback Chris Cook the final 20 yards, tossed the ball when he reached the end zone and flung his arms wildly in celebration after giving San Francisco a 14-6 lead. He threw for 40 yards on 5-for-9 passing and had 90 yards rushing.
Not a bad opening act.
The only real hiccup for the 49ers came when Carlos Rogers bit on an outside fake by Stephen Burton and thought he had safety help over the middle on Minnesota’s first possession. Burton sliced back inside and caught a 52-yard pass from Ponder to put Minnesota at San Francisco’s 24-yard line.
While the Vikings starters moved the ball often, they never found the end zone.
Gerhart, the 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up under Harbaugh at Stanford, carried the bulk of the offense, including a 16-yard scamper to San Francisco’s 12-yard line. But drives for Minnesota’s regulars ended in field goals by Walsh, who is replacing longtime veteran Ryan Longwell.
The exhibition opener also brought back memories besides that NFC championship.
Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary handed out hugs and handshakes during pregame warm-ups. The game marked the first time Singletary — now the Vikings linebackers coach and special assistant to head coach Leslie Frazier — was back at Candlestick Park since San Francisco fired the Hall of Fame linebacker after a 5-10 start in 2010.
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