This new 17-game NFL means a two-week break from the final preseason game until the start of the regular season.
With a three-game preseason, the exhibition finale was certainly not a throw-away, dreadful and utterly useless display for the 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
While the Las Vegas Raiders rested a good many of their starting players, the 49ers provided two offensive possessions that were unique, unpredictable and — dare we say — exciting.
Here are the three top takeaways from the 49ers’ 34-10 win over the Raiders:
Shanahan gives Lions plenty to think about
Coach Kyle Shanahan has not announced the winner of the 49ers’ quarterback competition.
Is that because there is no loser?
In their final dress rehearsal of the summer, the 49ers gave the Detroit Lions plenty to think about.
The only goal was to set up the club for success in Week 1 of the regular season on Sept. 12, and Shanahan took a peculiar approach.
Jimmy Garoppolo started at quarterback. He was on the field for three plays before Trey Lance replaced him.
The 49ers’ first drive ended with Garoppolo — yes, Garoppolo — returning to the field, lowering his head and squeezing into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run.
The play was a designed pass, but Garoppolo saw an opening and took off on a third-and-goal play.
The 49ers’ second series concluded with Lance running it in from 2 yards. He faked a handoff to running back Trey Sermon while receiver Jalen Hurd went in motion from right to left. Lance kept the ball and followed the block of fullback Josh Hokit into the end zone.
The 49ers scored touchdowns on drives of 10 plays, 68 yards, and 14 plays, 80 yards. Garoppolo took 14 snaps during those drives, while Lance was in for 10 plays. They were never on the field at the same time.
Lance played four series by himself after rotating in with Garoppolo. He completed six of 13 pass attempts for 46 yards with no touchdowns and threw no interceptions on the day. Garoppolo completed four of seven attempts for 64 yards.
Was this Shanahan messing with the Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn? Or do the 49ers really plan on deploying Garoppolo and Lance interchangeably?
The 49ers either gave away their plan for Week 1 and beyond or they created a smokescreen to distract the Lions. If Detroit prepares for all the possibilities, which they will have to now, perhaps they will not be able to fully prepare for anything.
Tartt back in the mix at the safety position
The offseason began with two candidates to start at strong safety: Jaquiski Tartt and Tarvarius Moore.
But when camp opened, it looked as if neither would be available for a long, long time.
Moore sustained a torn Achilles during the offseason program, and Tartt was slow to recover from a turf-toe injury that ended his 2020 season.
Tartt made his return to the field at practice last week. He was on the field for the 49ers on Sunday against the Raiders. He started and played into the third quarter.
Jimmie Ward is set at free safety. But the other starting job remains unsettled. Tartt has started all 39 regular-season and postseason games in which he appeared for the 49ers since 2017.
If Tartt is healthy, he’s the front-runner. But is he healthy?
Tartt registered a team-high five tackles, and if he checks out OK physically on Monday, he should get the call as the starter for Week 1 against the Lions.
If not, the 49ers have three other options: Veterans Tavon Wilson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and rookie Talanoa Hufanga.
Hufanga is guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster, as either the starter or a core special-teams player. Clinton-Dix and Wilson will face uncertainty on cut-down day. Clinton-Dix and Wilson played together in the second half.
Clinton-Dix had some good and bad. He allowed a 32-yard pass from Nathan Peterman to Dillon Stoner but came back with an interception and a 30-yard interception return.
Either veteran could return to the 49ers as members of the practice squad. This season, like a year ago, NFL teams are allowed up to six veterans on their 16-player practice squads.
Hurd gets his chance to win spot
The 49ers invested a 2019 third-round pick in wide receiver Jalen Hurd because of his unique blend of size and skills. If healthy, Shanahan says there is no question Hurd is one of the team’s top six receivers.
But the problem through his first two seasons has been the “if healthy” part.
Hurd returned to practice after sitting out 10 days with tendinitis in his left knee. He is returning from a season-ending knee injury that he sustained on the first day of training camp in 2020. His rookie season was wiped out due to a stress reaction in his back.
Hurd caught four passes for 25 yards, but he also had two dropped passes in his first preseason action since the opener of 2019.
The message entering the game against the Raiders seemed to be: If Hurd can just remain healthy with the team’s initial cuts to 53 players looming, he will have a spot on the roster to open the regular season.
Perhaps, his production was irrelevant.
The bigger issue might be how he feels on Monday. If Hurd made it through without any setbacks, he is likely to have a spot on the roster.