SANTA CLARA –- NaVorro Bowman made his much-anticipated return, and two players battling for roster spots followed up their impressive debuts with strong performances on Sunday night.
There was a lot for the 49ers to be encouraged about in their 23-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the second exhibition game for both teams.
Topping the list was Bowman, who recorded three tackles in his only three plays of the night while making his playing debut at Levi's Stadium.
Meanwhile, Jarryd Hayne and Mike Purcell, two players who are fighting for spots, continued to make strong cases for spots on the 49ers’ 53-man roster.
Hayne, who appears to be in good position to win the job as the 49ers’ return specialist, averaged 28.0 yards on three punt returns.
The first time he got his hands on the ball, he made an over-the-shoulder grab with his fingertips of a booming 66-yard punt from Chris Jones. Hayne then turned around, cut across the field and returned the punt 27 yards.
He also had punt returns of 34 and 23 yards. Hayne appears to be the front-runner to win the job with Bruce Ellington missing most of the offseason program and training camp with leg strains. Ellington was the 49ers’ primary return man last season.
In the second half, Hayne saw a lot of action on offense. On a third-and-two play in the third quarter, he gained 34 yards around the left side. Hayne finished with a game-high 54 yards rushing on eight attempts.
Purcell, a nose tackle who had a strong showing in the opener against the Texans, did on Sunday night what the 49ers’ offense could not do in the game: He scored a touchdown.
Purcell made an interception from point-blank range from Cowboys quarterback Dustin Vaughn. Purcell made a move on Vaughn, then peeled away the tackle attempt of offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau on his way to a 37-yard touchdown return. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, the 49ers’ first-round draft pick, pressured Vaughn into the errant throw.
Purcell faces a battle to win a roster spot on a defensive line that includes Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Darnell Dockett and Armstead, among others.
Bow is back: Bowman was on the field for three snaps, and he was credited with three tackles in his first game action since sustaining torn knee ligaments in the NFC Championship game in January 2014.
Bowman stopped Cowboys running back Darren McFadden for a one-yard gain on his first snap. On second down, Bowman and fellow inside linebacker Nick Moody teamed up to drop McFadden for a one-yard loss. On third down, Bowman tackled Lance Dunbar for a one-yard loss on a pass from quarterback Tony Romo.
He sat out the 49ers’ first padded practice of training camp, but has not missed another day since reporting to training camp in late-July. The 49ers opted to sit Bowman out of the exhibition opener last week against the Houston Texans.
Two series for Kaepernick: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was on the field for 15 snaps, as the 49ers scored three points in his two possessions to open the game. Kaepernick completed 2-of-5 pass attempts for 13 yards. He also rushed once on a zone read option and gained nine yards.
The 49ers gained 51 yards on the first series of the game to set up Phil Dawson’s 25-yard field goal. Kaepernick completed a six-yard pass to running back Carlos Hyde on a third-and-five play from the Dallas 15. The 49ers settled for the field goal when Cowboys cornerback Corey White broke up Kaepernick’s attempted back-shoulder throw to Torrey Smith in the end zone.
Patton’s play: Wide receiver Quinton Patton had not made his mark as the team’s No. 3 receiver. But he came through with a big play on special teams. In the fourth quarter, Patton made it past the block attempt of Tim Scott to block a punt and recover it in the end zone to give the 49ers a 23-0 lead. Patton then became the first 49ers player to fashion a Levi’s leap, with his jump into the stands after the scoring play.
However, things did not go as well for Patton on offense. He caught three passes for a net two yards. Patton had a yards-after-catch of minus-14 yards on a pass from Blaine Gabbert in the second quarter. The play lost 12 yards on a third-and-14 situation.
On the sideline: Running backs Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter, wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Dres Anderson, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, inside linebacker Philip Wheeler and defensive back Jimmie Ward were held out of action. Ellington, Dorsey and Wheeler have not been able to practice due to leg muscle strains. Ward has returned to practice, but the 49ers are bringing him back slowly from a fractured foot.
This ‘n’ that: Tight end Vance McDonald left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. The injury is not believed to be serious. McDonald remained standing on the sideline with his left ankle wrapped. . . Carradine left the game in the first half with an undisclosed leg injury. He also returned to the sideline in uniform but did not return to action. . . Keith Reaser started the game at right cornerback. After a couple series, Kenneth Acker replaced starter Tramaine Brock on the other side. . . The 49ers’ second offensive line consisted of left tackle Patrick Miller, left guard Andrew Tiller, center Dillon Farrell, right guard Ian Silberman and right tackle Trent Brown. . . A.J. Jenkins, the 49ers’ first-round draft pick 2012, is now fighting for a roster spot with the Cowboys. He caught a 21-yard pass in the second quarter. He appeared in three games with the 49ers and did not catch a pass before he was shipped to Kansas City the following summer in a trade for Jonathan Baldwin. . . Safety Craig Dahl interceped a Dustin Vaughn pass intended for Lucky Whitehead in the second quarter. . . The NFL last week announced its suspension of 49ers wide receiver Jerome Simpson for six games to open the regular season for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. But he remains eligible to play during the preseason. Simpson caught a nine-yard pass in the second quarter from Gabbert. . . Either Dontae Johnson or L.J. McCray could have recorded an easy interception of a Vaughn pass intended for Jenkins in the third quarter. Both went for it, collided and the ball fell for a mere incompletion. . . In the fourth quarter, Johnson picked up an interception. . . The playing field was not an issue, after all. The 49ers had grass from Evergreen Turf of Chandler, Arizona, installed in the middle of the week, and it appeared to hold up well. The 49ers had issues with their sod, as they canceled a planned practice at Levi’s Stadium that was expected to draw 20,000 fans due to poor field conditions. After the Taylor Swift concert of Aug. 15, the old sod was ripped up and the new turf was installed. . . Dawson had field goals of 25 and 33 yards, while Corey Acosta, an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi, added a 38-yard field goal for the 49ers. . . . McCray and rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt both had big hits in the 49ers’ secondary. McCray also forced a fourth-down incompletion with his hit on quarterback Jameill Showers on a safety blitz in the fourth quarter. . . . Jordan Devey, acquired the Tuesday trade with the New England Patriots for tight end Asante Cleveland, played right guard. Brandon Thomas was moved to left guard with the third-team offensive line. . . Former South Carolina standouts Thompson and tight end Busta Anderson combined for a 29-yard pass play for the 49ers in the fourth quarter. Anderson was the 49ers’ seventh-round draft pick. . . Safety Jermaine Whitehead intercepted a Showers pass on a two-point conversion attempt. . . Recently free-agent acquisition Shawn Lemon recorded a fourth-quarter sack.
What’s next: The 49ers travel to Denver for two days of joint practices with the Bronco on Wednesday and Thursday. After a day off on Friday, the two teams will play Saturday night.
Photo courtesy Associated Press