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SANTA CLARA –- Quarterback Blaine Gabbert likely solidified his hold on the 49ers’ backup job.
The 49ers’ first-team offense struggled in four possessions with Colin Kaepernick under constant pressure. But the player who faced the most pressure entering the 49ers’ exhibition game on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers might have been the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback.
Gabbert’s second possession was exactly what he needed in the 49ers’ 21-7 victory over the Chargers at Levi’s Stadium in the third exhibition game for both teams.
Just before the end of the first half, Gabbert led the 49ers on their first touchdown drive of the exhibition season. He got the 49ers into the end zone with a 6-yard pass to tight end Vance McDonald, who managed to get open against Chargers backup safety Darrell Stuckey.
Gabbert completed two third-down passes to extend the drive. He was 5 of 6 for 58 yards passing on the drive.
Gabbert has been the prohibitive favorite to win the backup role since the 49ers acquired him in an offseason trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round draft pick. Gabbert has a guaranteed salary this season of $2 million.
The 49ers’ first touchdown of the exhibition season gave them a 10-7 lead over the Chargers at halftime. Gabbert opened the second half. He finished his day with a 110.4 passer rating, on 7-of-11 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Before Gabbert’s appearance late in the first half, the 49ers’ offense struggled mightily just to keep Kaepernick in one piece.
Kaepernick finished 6 of 12 for 59 yards in his longest appearance of the exhibition. He also lost a fumble to end the 49ers’ second possession of the game.
Sod watch: The playing surface, which was re-sodded on Friday, did not appear to be a big factor in the game. But LaMichael James did have his issues with it. James fell three times after his footing gave out.
On the opening kickoff, the up-back Bruce Miller handled the ball. James ran up and applied the brakes at the last instant to yield to Miller. In the process, James kicked up a large divot. On another kickoff, James slipped while making a cut. He went down at the 24-yard line after an 11-yard return. In the third quarter, he slipped as he tried to stop to avoid a punt near the sideline.
Iupati struggles: Left guard Mike Iupati was expected to be one of the rocks of the 49ers’ offensive line. However, he struggled mightily against Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget, who dominated Iupati as a pass rusher and against the run.
The 49ers continue to play without right guard Alex Boone, who remains a contract holdout. Joe Looney and Adam Snyder played right guard and appeared to hold their own. However, Iupati did not have a good day. Liuget beat Iupati for a sack/fumble and another hit on Kaepernick.
Kaepernick takes a beating: Kaepernick, who has avoided a lot of big hits since taking over as the 49ers’ starting quarterback at the midpoint of the 2012 season, got hammered hard on the 49ers’ third play of the game.
Kaepernick began to scramble on a third-and-9 play. Defensive lineman Kendall Reyes had Kaepernick around the ankles, while Liuget and safety Eric Weddle hit him hard. The ball was jarred loose, but Kaepernick was ruled down. The second series ended when Kaepernick fumbled as he was sacked.
--The deadline for the first round of cuts -– 90 to 75 -– is Tuesday. The 49ers could make some of their roster moves on Monday.
--Rookie running back Glenn Winston ripped through an opening on the right side that pulling left guard Al Netter helped create, for a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The 49ers picked up the two-point conversion on Josh Johnson’s pass to Lance Lewis to give the 49ers a 21-7 lead.
--Veteran wide receiver Brandon Lloyd did not suit up for the game due to an undisclosed injury. Stevie Johnson suited up but saw action with the second unit. He caught one pass for 5 yards. The 49ers’ third receiver was Quinton Patton, who caught one pass for 10 yards.
--Rookie backup center Marcus Martin, a third-round draft pick, sustained a left knee injury in the fourth quarter. He was taken off the field on cart. His status was not immediately known.
--Special-teams ace Bubba Ventrone sustained a hamstring strain in the quarter and did not return. Ventrone’s injury places his availability for the 49ers’ season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 7 in question.
--Fullback Will Tukuafu left the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
--Veteran Craig Dahl was in the starting lineup at strong safety in place of Antoine Bethea, who was held out of action after sustaining a concussion last week. Dahl got the start over rookie Jimmie Ward, who continues to be the 49ers’ top nickel back.
--Ward played safety in the second half and made an interception in the third quarter of a pass that outside linebacker Aaron Lynch tipped at the line of scrimmage. Lynch, a fifth-round draft pick from South Florida via Notre Dame, also recorded a sack.
--Running back Frank Gore had a 2-yard loss on his only carry of the game. Rookie Carlos Hyde replaced Gore in the backfield and put together a strong first half. Hyde carries six times for 38 yards.
--Michael Wilhoite got the start at inside linebacker, alongside Patrick Willis, who made his first appearance of the exhibition season. Wilhoite and Willis teamed up to stop Chargers running back Ryan Matthews for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play at the 49ers’ 5 in the first quarter.
--Rookie linebacker Chris Borland opened the second half with a sack of Chargers quarterback Brad Sorenson on third-and-7 situation.
--Cornerback Darryl Morris recorded a late-game interception when he broke on a route from ex-San Jose State tight end Ryan Otten to pick off Sorensen.