KANSAS CITY – Kyle Shanahan’s debut Friday night as the 49ers coach, albeit an exhibition opener, didn’t start off much differently than his recent predecessors’ struggles.
The defense immediately caved, the offense backfired and the opponent looked superior from the outset.
But, hey, this is a new era, and the 49ers actually came back and won, which is welcome for a franchise coming off a 2-14 season.
“Some positives, some negatives,” Shanahan said at halftime of the eventual 27-17 win over the host Kansas City Chiefs. “… I’m glad how the guys battled. Not everything was perfect, but it was a good start.”
Well, it was a good start to this rebuilding season for their first-round draft picks, Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas. Foster broke up a pass in the end zone as he started alongside NaVorro Bowman, and Thomas applied pressure that led to an interception.
Offensively, however, this wasn’t an encouraging first impression by the 49ers starters against the host Chiefs: two series, seven snaps, three yards.
Brian Hoyer completed only 1 of 4 passes, and the lone reception went for 3 yards to running back Carlos Hyde. Hoyer did thread a third-and-long pass to Jeremy Kerley, only to have it nullified by one of the 49ers’ 17 penalties.
“You’d like to go out and have a little bit more success,” Hoyer said. “But, I think it was good to get out and play against a different team really and see what we need to work on.”
Shanahan looked composed in his sideline debut. He paced with his play sheet while relaying in offensive calls. He peaked at video images on a tablet when the 49ers defense was on the field. And, for the record, he lost his first replay challenge on a Chiefs reception.
Beside Foster and Thomas, other rookies had their moments, including running backs Joe Williams and Matt Breida, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor, starting free safety Lorenzo Jerome and quarterback C.J. Beathard, who threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes in an impressive comeback.
Tyler McCloskey provided the go-ahead points on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Beathard, who earlier connected with Bourne on a 48-yard touchdown pass and an ensuing two-point conversion pass to tie the score at 17.
1. Rushing defense. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh vowed his unit would stop the run and make it their No. 1 priority, after allowing the most rushing yards in team history and 25 rushing touchdowns last season. On the opening drive, Saleh’s unit gave up a 10-yard run on third-and-7, and a 2-yard touchdown run.
2. QB situation. Hoyer’s seven-snap cameo won’t threaten his stranglehold on the starting spot. Matt Barkley (10 of 17, 168 yards) fared OK as the No. 2 QB, and he showed touch on a play-action pass to Garrett Celek for 24 yards. Beathard, a third-round pick, hung tough in the pocket and led a fourth-quarter comeback. FYI: Ex-49ers quarterback Alex Smith went 4 of 6 for 48 yards while only playing the Chiefs’ first series.
3. Penalties. An astounding 17 penalties is troubling, as was the variety of infractions: illegal formation, unnecessary roughness, facemask, holding, false start, pass interference, etc. The 49ers and Chiefs each got penalized eight times in a sloppy first half, including a holding call on Aaron Burbridge that nullified a touchdown catch by Aldrick Robinson. “We’ve got to clean up the penalties,” Shanahan said. “… We’ve got to clean that stuff up before we score.”
THREE WHO HELPED THEMSELVES
1. Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. His pressure against the right guard nearly resulted in a sack and instead it produced an interception by Rashard Robinson. He played deep into the second half, and this was a positive step after having missed the offseason program.
2. Defensive end Aaron Lynch. Two sacks, a tackle-for-a-loss and a third-down pass breakup certainly help open his contract year, even if he was dominating backups.
3. Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. His nice, open-field move resulted in 35 yards after the catch on a 63-yard reception. He also had a 20-yard catch to inspire hopes of him as a complementary target. He had a potential touchdown catch nullified by penalties.
THREE WHO HURT THEMSELVES
1. Cornerback Rashard Robinson. An acrobatic interception took the sting off a rough start. He allowed a 33-yard reception on the first snap, and he later missing a third-down tackle at the 8-yard line. He gave up a 29-yard catch on the Chiefs’ second series, and does the interception really alleviate concerns about his earlier coverage woes?
2. Running back Kapri Bibbs: His poor blocking resulted in a blocked punt in the third quarter. He’s already behind two rookies on the running back depth chart, so this doesn’t help.
3. Safety Chanceller James. His pass-interference penalty on tight end Gavin Escobar gave the Chiefs first-and-goal from the 1. Two snaps later, Chiefs rookie Patrick Mahomes threw a touchdown pass for a 17-9 lead.
— DeForest Buckner aggravated an ankle injury on the first series and did not return, although it did not appear serious.
— All 49ers players stood for the national anthem, including Eric Reid and Eli Harold, who knelt last season with Colin Kaepernick. None raised a fist in protest of racial inequality, and the majority put their hands over their hearts.
— Three field goals gave the 49ers a 9-7 halftime lead, but a 51-yard attempt by Robbie Gould got blocked as the half expired. With a blocked punt in the second half, well, the special teams didn’t have a decent debut, either.
— The 49ers captains were Bowman (defense), Joe Staley (offense) and, in a positive sign for his roster chances, Burbridge (special teams). A hamstring injury kept Burbridge out after halftime.
— Defensive lineman Ronald Blair sustained a fourth-quarter groin injury.
— Linebacker Donavin Newsom (concussion), guard Joshua Garnett (knee) and cornerback Dontae Johnson (concussion) did not travel with the team. Newsom got discharged from Stanford Medical Center on Thursday after spending two nights for a concussion from Tuesday’s collision at practice. Linebacker Brock Coyle (rib) and tight end George Kittle (hamstring) did not play, and safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring) is on the physically unable to perform list.
— Breida got the nod as the second-string running back, and even though he couldn’t score from 1-yard out, he did battle well in an earlier run to reach the 1.
— Three defensive starters did not suit up for the Chiefs: safety Eric Berry, linemen Chris Jones and Bennie Logan. Also, tight end Travis Kelce did not play.
— The Carolina Panthers, who face the 49ers in the Sept. 10 regular-seaosn opener, were among the teams to send scouts to the game.
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