SANTA CLARA — Brock Purdy looks ready to again transform the 49ers into a high-scoring offense, from what his surgically repaired elbow showed through training camp and Friday night’s preseason finale.
How the Niners convert point-after attempts or field goals, however, is suddenly of great concern.
The 49ers’ two kickers are injured, some two weeks before the regular season opens in Pittsburgh, a notoriously dodgy place to kick.
It wasn’t enough that rookie Jake Moody’s rough initiation into the NFL world continued with a quadriceps injury in practice this week. Veteran Zane Gonzalez could not come to the rescue, as a pregame calf injury kept him out of the 23-12 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Thus, the 49ers restored to Mitch Wishnowsky, their punter and usual holder. He failed to convert the point-after kick following Purdy’s 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and that wasn’t surprising considering he missed 2-of-4 point-after tries over the past two season, as well as his only field-goal attempt, while filling in for then-kicker Robbie Gould, who remains a free agent.
Will the 49ers call back Gould? Can they afford him? The bigger payroll nightmare are the ongoing negotiations to sign Nick Bosa for what likely will be the NFL’s richest contract ever for a non-quarterback.
As for Moody, he cost a third-round draft pick, and he’s already had endured a rough initiation to the NFL. He missed two field-goal attempts in the preseason opener at Las Vegas and then failing on a point-after kick in his Levi’s Stadium debut, which he ended up winning last Saturday by sliding in a walk-off, 32-yard field goal as time expired. Moody is listed by the team as “day-to-day.” The season opens Sept. 10.
Here is what else transpired in the preseason opener, which kicked off about three hours after the 49ers traded 2021 No. 3 pick Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick:
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of their pre-season game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Purdy, ever the overachiever, made it through camp and the preseason in impressive fashion. Only 5 1/2 months after having his right elbow repaired, his comeback is full-speed ahead into Pittsburgh. And so are his legs, apparently.
Purdy, on Friday’s second possession, scored on a 5-yard run and did so in untouched fashion, thus minimizing any potential danger. That capped a nine-play, 53-yard drive. He completed 5-of-9 passes on the night for 73 yards, and he did not get hit by a Chargers defender.
Purdy completed 4-of-6 for 62 yards on the opening drive, which ended at the 1-yard line when Jordan Mason fumbled approaching the goal line and the Chargers recovered in the end zone.
Sam Darnold, appointed the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Lance only two days earlier, showed his arm talent by throwing a 34-yard completion down the right sideline to a diving Chris Conley, whose crash landing injured his shoulder. Darnold stayed in to open the second half, and he delivered a 6-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Willie Snead IV.
Darnold finished the preseason 22-of-33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in 12 drives.
Darnold yielded to Brandon Allen late in the third quarter, and Allen’s first pass was behind but off Tay Martin’s hands, resulting in an interception. Allen’s first pass in the preseason opener: intercepted off a receiver’s hands (Ronnie Bell’s).
Allen opened 0-for-3 before a 14-yard completion to Isaiah Winstead from the 49ers’ 4-yard line. Allen finished 2-of-6 for 23 yards.
WIDE RECEIVER OPTIONS
Now the 49ers might scrounge further for backups behind Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings. Bell looks like a roster lock, and he helped his cause with a 16-yard punt return Friday. Snead stated a solid case to stick with his 6-yard touchdown catch, as well as an earlier 14-yard reception.
Conley landed so hard on his left shoulder that he was ruled out for the second half, complicating his roster chances. The 49ers already are expected to open the regular season without wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (wrist) and Danny Gray (shoulder). Veteran Anthony Miller was signed earlier this week; he muffed a fourth-quarter punt return near the goal line.
Aiyuk looked in Wide Receiver 1 form on ha 35-yard reception to the 2-yard line. He eluded two defenders down the left sideline as he ran 30 yards after the catch. It was his second reception this preseason, after making only one each of the previous two preseasons.
San Francisco 49ers’ Fred Warner (54) reacts after sacking Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick (2) in the first quarter of their pre-season game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
WARNER SACK ARTIST
While Nick Bosa remains on the reserve/did-not-report list (amid contract talks), the 49ers turned to a different third-down sack artist: linebacker Fred Warner, who took down Chargers starter Easton Stick, North Dakota State’s predecessor to Trey Lance. Warner celebrated with a shrug to mimic Bosa’s sack dance.
Warner, along with other defenders, is expected to blitz more this season under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Warner has 6 1/2 career sacks, and none in nine playoff games.
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Breaking down the 49ers’ position groups entering preseason finale vs. Chargers
The 49ers suited up and played most of their opening-day starters for a second straight preseason game. Sitting this one out, however: left tackle Trent Williams; running back Christian McCaffrey; defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead; and, safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Drake Jackson, making his preseason debut, thought he made an interception on the first series after halftime (and celebrated accordingly with his teammates). Officials, however, ruled it an incompletion. Jackson did, however, make an interception on a Purdy pass in practice.
Ji’Ayir Brown and Tayler Hawkins were the replacement starters at safety, and it was Hawkins who missed a tackle as the last line of defense on a 75-yard touchdown run by the Chargers Joshua Kelley. The Chargers’ next touchdown came on a fourth-and-2 catch by Hunter Kampmoyer, who eluded linebacker Marcelino McCrary-Ball.
Aside from kickers’ injuries and Conley’s, the 49ers also saw cornerback A.J. Parker (halftime) exit at halftime. Parker was a candidate