HOUSTON –- The 49ers’ goal-line defense was certainly in top form in the team’s exhibition opener on Saturday night.
And it would only go to reason that the defensive front would put together the most impressive showing in the public unveiling of coach Jim Tomsula’s team.
Tomsula coached the 49ers’ defensive line for eight seasons before getting the promotion to replace Jim Harbaugh. However, the new-look, Tomsula-led 49ers were 23-10 losers to the Houston Texans in the exhibition opener for both teams.
Trailing 8-0 after surrendering a long touchdown pass on the first drive of the game, the 49ers had to tighten things down in order to avoid surrendering touchdowns on the Texans’ first two drives of the game.
Houston ran eight plays inside the 49ers’ 4-yard line, including six plays from the 1-yard line. And each time, the 49ers held them out of the end zone.
[MAIOCCO: 49ers QB Kaepernick exits after one series]
The 49ers got the ball back when Eric Reid, Shareece Wright, Nick Moody and Shayne Skov teamed up to thwart Alfred Blue on a fourth-and-goal attempt. Nose tackle Mike Purcell was especially strong during the sequence, as he was involved in a couple of tackles, including a 3-yard loss of Blue.
The Texans were awarded a first down when 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock was called for pass interference on Ryan Mallett’s pass intended for wide receiver Alan Bonner.
After taking over at the 1-yard line, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers’ offense marched all the way down the field for a touchdown. Jarryd Hayne, the former star of Australia’s National Rugby League, tore off a 53-yard run. That play set up Gabbert’s 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Garrett Celek, who shook off a tackle attempt of Benardrick McKinney at the 5-yard line.
On the 49ers’ next drive, the offense moved 54 yards on eight plays to set up Phil Dawson’s 37-yard field goal.
Gabbert had a strong showing after struggling during the exhibition season a year ago. Gabbert completed 8 of 11 pass attempts for 86 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 125.6.
Gabbert solid performance came just days after Tomsula professed his support and confidence in the No. 10 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars from the 2011 draft.
“Well, I’m a believer in Blaine Gabbert,” Tomsula said on Thursday. “I am. Just point blank: I’m a believer in Blaine Gabbert. We are building a team, so in terms of the on-the-field play and the team, Blaine Gabbert, that’s a beautiful piece.”
Early exit for Kaepernick: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed one of three passing attempts, including a 14-yard completion to Anquan Boldin. He overthrew speedster Torrey Smith, who had gotten behind the Texans defense on his next attempt. Gabbert replaced Kaepernick on the 49ers’ second drive.
Rest for the vets: Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, tight end Vernon Davis, defensive end Darnell Dockett and running back Reggie Bush were held out of the game as Tomsula wanted to avoid any risks to his veteran players and give ample playing time to younger players at those positions. The turf at NRG Stadium is considered among the most treacherous in the NFL.
Former Stanford star Shayne Skov started in place of Bowman, while Vance McDonald started at tight end.
In addition to Bowman, Davis, Dockett and Bush, 49ers who were not available for the team’s exhibition opener were: running back Kendall Hunter, wide receivers Bruce Ellington, Dres Anderson and DeAndre Smelter (NFI), center Daniel Kilgore (PUP), defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, inside linebackers Nick Bellore (NFI), Michael Wilhoite (NFI) and Philip Wheeler, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, and defensive back Jimmie Ward.
This ‘n’ that: The 49ers’ first defense gave up a 58-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Cecil Shorts on the first drive of the game. Moody could not keep up with Shorts across the field, and Shorts split Antoine Bethea and Dontae Johnson en route to the end zone. . . Wright was in tight coverage as the Texans scored on the two-point conversion, a back-shoulder throw to DeAndre Hopkins. . . The Texans second touchdown came on Tom Savage’s 10-yard pass to Jaelen Strong against 49ers cornerback Marcus Cromartie. . . First-round pick Arik Armstead recorded one tackle in his debut after entering in the second quarter and playing into the third quarter . . . When Hayne ripped off a 53-yard carry in the second quarter, it elicited some loud cheers from a couple members of the Australian media in attendance. They were then introduced to American sporting custom with the announcement that there’s no cheering allowed in the press box. . . Hayne gained 63 yards on five rushing attempts. He averaged 12 yards on two punt returns, and added a 33-yard return when he took a kickoff 7 yards deep in the end zone and ened up at the 26. . . Fullback Bruce Miller and left tackle Patrick Miller had strong blocks on the left side to give Hayne the alley through which to run on the play. . . Linebacker Desmond Bishop sustained a calf injury in the second half and did not return. . . . Rookie right tackle Trent Brown, a seventh-round draft pick, surrendered a sack to Texans defensive end Jason Ankrah that resulted in a sack of Dylan Thompson in the end zone for a safety. . . Keith Reaser blitzed off the slot and batted down a Tom Savage pass attempt in the third quarter. . . Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Dallas, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay had scouts at the game. The Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League were also represented.
What’s next: The 49ers have a couple of days off before returning to full practice on Tuesday. The 49ers’ next game is Sunday, Aug. 23, against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium.