Harbaugh: 'We're the 49ers, we can do whatever we want'
Six points and out: Colin Kaepernick and the entire starting offensive line played together for one productive series. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
What you need to know: The 49ers' offense showed it is ready for the regular season.
And defensive coordinator Vic Fangio demonstrated he believes his unit is ready for the real games to begin, too.
Only one projected defensive starter suited up for the game, as Fangio gave the regulars the night off. On offense, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the entire starting offensive line played together for one productive series.
Coach Jim Harbaugh did not feel like sharing why the the offense and defense used two completely different approaches Thursday night. "No reason," he said.
Regardless, both sides of the ball were ultra-impressive in a 41-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers, who sat out all of their regulars in the final tuneup game for both teams.
All NFL teams must trim their rosters from 75 players to the league maximum of 53 by the 3 p.m. deadline on Saturday. Harbaugh said he is excited about whittling the roster down to the group that will have an opportunity to wear 49ers jerseys on Sept. 8, when the 49ers open the season against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park.
"It's not a sad time of sorrow and remorse," Harbaugh said. "You feel great that these guys have improved as football players."
In Kaepernick's one drive, he teamed up with rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton (shown, above) on a 43-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown. Patton will be on the 49ers' 53-man roster. Now, it's just a matter of discovering what his role might be.
"He made a great play," Kaepernick said. "That's what he's shown us throughout camp is that he can make plays like that and he had a great night."
Lasting impact: Outside linebacker Cam Johnson (shown, below right) appeared to be on the outside looking in when he came to a potential spot on the 53-man roster. But that was before the 49ers dealt veteran Parys Haralson to the New Orleans Saints for a seventh-round draft pick.
Entering Thursday's game, veteran Dan Skuta and rookie Corey Lemonier had roster spots wrapped up as backups behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Johnson appeared to nail a position for a fifth outside linebacker.
Johnson had an incredible all-around performance with two sacks, two quarterback hurries, six tackles and a touchdown when he recovered his own blocked punt.
"I'm a lot more comfortable with the defense and the calls," Johnson said. "I don't have to think as much before the play. I can just get out there and play football."
Play of the Game: Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins entered Thursday's game facing an uphill climb to win a roster spot. He certainly did not guarantee anything Thursday night, but his big-play ability will give general manager Trent Baalke more to think about.
Hawkins provided a memorable play in a forgettable exhibition contest with more than nine minutes remaining in the game. Quarterback B.J. Daniels' pass to Hawkins on a shallow crossing route deflected off his hands but Hawkins continued running and caught it. He stepped over Chargers linebacker Daniel Molls, then bounced off safety Jahleel Addae and changed directions to the left in the process.
Hawkins eluded a couple other Chargers defenders, then turned on the speed toward the left sideline. Running back Anthony Dixon supplied the final block on cornerback Greg Gatson to allow Hawkins to get into the end zone.
"I was thinking a lot of things," Daniels said. "I was thinking, 'Oh, man, incompletion.' 'Oh, it could be an interception.' 'Oh, he's going to get tackled.'"
Lasting impact: The competition at long-snapper was one of the few roster spots that was unsettled. The 49ers are seriously considering undrafted rookie Kevin McDermott over incumbent Brian Jennings, who has been nearly perfect in 13 previous seasons. McDermott handled all of the long-snapping chores on Thursday while Jennings sat on the bench.
It was not a perfect day for McDermott, however.
"Kevin was good," Harbaugh said "That one missed field goal (52-yarder), we were off a little bit. The laces were in the wrong spot. Andy got it spun, but . . . It's a tough call, but we'll have to put our heads together and make the right decision."
A long-snapper in the NFL is expected to be so consistent that the holder catches the ball with the laces facing away from the kicker every time. McDermott otherwise made good snaps on Lee's six punts, as well as on five extra points and Phil Dawson's made field goals of 47 and 40 yards.
Defensive highlights: Johnson was not the only standout on defense. Craig Dahl, Tramaine Brock and Michael Wilhoite recorded interceptions, while Skuta and Lemonier (shown, below) contributed sacks. Inside linebacker Nate Stupar had nine tackles to lead both teams. He also deflected a pass that veteran safety Craig Dahl hauled in for an interception.
Injury Concerns: Return man LaMichael James exited late in the first quarter with a left knee injury he sustained on a 10-yard punt return. Harbaugh did not have an update on James' status after the game.
Reserve offensive lineman Adam Snyder underwent an X-ray on his left hand at halftime. Snyder returned to the sideline for the second half with his hand taped up.
Head-Scratcher: Before the 49ers departed for San Diego on Thursday, veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace informed Harbaugh he would not make the trip, Harbaugh said.
"Yeah, that was a surprise," Harbaugh said. "He's not continuing to play football.
"(That was) something that was his decision. He felt strongly about it. Don't talk people out of that. Never seen it done on game day, but I wish him well and it got Colt (McCoy) and B.J. more snaps tonight."
McCoy was the second 49ers quarterback into the game. He completed eight of 15 pass attempts for 56 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dixon. Daniels completed five of nine attempts for 76 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to the scoring pass to Hawkins, Daniels also teamed up with undrafted rookie receiver Chuck Jacobs for the pair's second touchdown of the exhibition season.
No time to knuckle: The opportunity never presented itself for 49ers punter Andy Lee to attempt a "knuckle punt" in the exhibition finale. Lee said he needed to be on the opponent's side of midfield to test the type of punt that learned from Craig Hentrich, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, through Joe Nedney, a teammate of both punters.
Initially, it was believed Lee unveiled the punt which has no spin and, thus, reacts unpredictably like a knuckle ball in baseball. But Lee's first punt, which bounced well in front of return man Keenan Allen and ended up rolling 45 yards, was a different variety of punt, Lee said.
"The first one was called a miss-hit punt," Lee said. "You can call it that (knuckle punt) if you want."
This 'n' that: Receiver Chad Hall, who appears unlikely to make the 53-man roster, entered the playing field on defense for a late-game snap at nickel back. . . Veteran Austin Collie, a long shot to earn a roster spot, had two deep passes -- one from McCoy, another from Daniels -- slip through his hands. . . Players who did not suit up for Thursday's game included Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Nnamdi Asomugha, Donte Whitner and rookie Eric Reid. . . Nose tackle Ian Williams was the only projected defensive starter who saw action. . . One game after being penalized 11 times for 118 yards, the 49ers played a relatively clean game. They were flagged just twice for 10 yards. . . Because of a curfew at San Diego International Airport and budget cuts at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the 49ers were forced to fly home out of Ontario Airport -- a 107-mile bus trip from Qualcomm Stadium. Then, because of a curfew in San Jose, the 49ers were forced to land at San Francisco International Airport on the way home. The team was expecting to get back to Santa Clara at approximately 4:30 a.m.
Quote of the day: "Five total? Yeah, you could. And it may happen. After tonight and the way Cam Johnson played, can you? Heck, yeah, you can. We're the San Francisco 49ers. We can do whatever we want."
--Harbaugh on the possibility with Johnson's play that the 49ers keep five outside linebackers.
In line photos provided by USA Today Images