3 Takeaways from the 49ers first preseason win of 2023

Aug 21, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: 11:16 am

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the ball against the Denver Broncos in the f...

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Saturday’s preseason clash with the Denver Broncos ended with a win for the San Francisco 49ers, who were elated to come from behind to take the game at Levi’s Stadium.

While the main talking point is the return of quarterback Brock Purdy, there were other areas of interest that could linger over into the regular season.

Here are some takeaways from Week 2 of the 2023 preseason.

Brock Purdy is Back

It’s been six and a half months since Purdy & the 49ers had the first team offense clicking, and boy did he look good in his return to football.

Strolling onto the field for the first since January, the quarterback looked in command Saturday, showcasing his accuracy and efficiency.

The second-year gunslinger got the drive started with a play-action rollout to his left, hitting wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the flat for a 14-yard scamper. He would later connect with Jauan Jennings and Brandon Aiyuk to get the 49ers near the goal line. The drive stalled there, however, taking a sack that would back them up eight yards. Trying to scramble for the endzone on third down, Purdy dove short of the goal line to force a field goal try.

Regardless, it was still a strong start to his 2023 preseason, finishing four for five, 65 yards passing with a 118.8 QB rating. While they would have liked to score six points, coach Kyle Shanahan was pleased with his starting QB’s performance.

“I thought he did real good, all the plays that he had, he made and I don’t think he had a bad one,” Shanahan said about Purdy postgame.

“It felt really good just to be out there with the guys in a game environment,” Brock Purdy added Saturday. “Obviously, just get the nerves out a little bit. Just the buildup to a game and everything, and then being able to get an early completion to Deebo and get things rolling. So, it felt really good to be able to get out there and drive and honestly, just be in a game environment, like I said. So, yeah, I’m excited about it.”

After practicing with the first-team offense the last three weeks, Purdy’s play Saturday is incredibly encouraging, to say the least, to the point that it’s hard to believe he had elbow surgery in March. Questions about his velocity and throwing power have been negated for the most part, but the next test will be to push the ball downfield more.

He should have a chance to do that this Friday against the Los Angeles Chargers, with his coach confident that the starters will play. How much they do play though, remains to be seen.

“No, the starters will play next week,” Shanahan stated.

What we do know is that Brock Purdy is undoubtedly the 49ers’ QB1 for the future, hoping to build off a tremendous rookie season.

Ronnie Bell: Welcome to the 53-man roster

We mentioned Bell last week after standing out in the team’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. This week, he took his game to a whole other level.

Ronnie Bell was a man-possessed Saturday night, leading all skill positions with seven catches for 114 receiving yards. It felt like the Michigan alum would be getting the ball on every dropback, lighting up the Broncos’ secondary across the field.

His best catch of the day set the Red & Gold up for their game-winning field goal. Running a middle-in route, Bell got separation from the cornerback with ease before QB Trey Lance fired a rifle at him in stride. Racing past Denver defenders, the rookie WR rumbled down the field to the opposition’s 21-yard line.

On a night when all eyes were on the QBs, Bell stole the show for San Francisco, helping his team any way he can.

“I’m just grateful they called my number and get a chance to get the ball in my hands and be able to make a play. Really, the biggest thing is just blessed to have that opportunity,” Bell said postgame.

His big night didn’t come without mistakes though.

The Michigan alum had another pass slip out of his hands and fall to the defense for an interception this week. Similar to Week 1 of the preseason, the ball hit Bell in the facemask, flying in the air for a Broncos safety to pick off.

While Shanahan & Co. will need to work on that with him, his ability to get open and churn out yards-after-the-catch make him a perfect complement in the offense.

“I think all you guys saw the plays he has made,” Shanahan said about Bell’s play. “Just with the ball in his hands, breaking tackles, I think that’s a lot for a guy to do that in his first two games as a punt returner and as a receiver. Shows that he can hang with our group and hopefully he can clean this stuff up because we did give him a lot of opportunities. So, by no means was he perfect, he’s still got a long way to go and he has got to get better.”

It’s the middle part of the anecdote that resonates: “Shows that he can hang with our group”.

That’s a big statement from the 49ers’ coach, who usually finding more cons than pros with rookie wideouts. But Bell’s ability to do the dirty work is why the locker room loves him already.

And with injuries already affecting his counterparts, expect the seventh-round pick to be on the opening day roster for the 2023 season.

Too soon to write off Trey Lance?

After last week’s embarrassing outing against the Raiders, everyone and their mother wanted to write off Trey Lance. Fast forward a week, and he wrote back.

Lance finished his second preseason contest of the year on a high note, leading the 49ers down the field on two straight drives to overcome an eight-point deficit.

The first of the drives started with 5:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, marching down with a seven-play drive. Reading the defense well, Lance was able to deliver strong throws to his wideouts to get the team on the other side of the 50-yard line.

His best throw of the drive was the touchdown, hitting rookie tight end Cameron Latu up the seam for a 22-yard score. The QB threaded the ball with perfect touch, allowing Latu to shield away from the incoming safety before falling into the endzone.

That one play was so important for both men, sharing their struggles throughout this training camp. Unfortunately, the 49ers couldn’t convert the two-point attempt after being backed up because WR Brandon Aiyuk went on the field to celebrate the TD.


The next drive was even more impressive, having only two minutes to operate in a tight contest.

Again hitting his receivers with poise and accuracy, Lance got the 49ers near midfield within 30 seconds. His best strike of the day came next, hitting Bell for his 43-yard catch & run.

Now in prime position, Shanahan called up a run play to milk the clock some more. With time about to expire, rookie kicker Jake Moody came on to win the game from 23 yards away.

Trey Lance was one of the heroes Saturday, finishing his day with 12/18, 173 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. Only playing the fourth quarter, the third-year QB made the most of his opportunities, pleasing his coach to an extent.

“It seemed like [he was more relaxed]. I think always when you don’t go three-and-out it helps. And so, I think we got a little bit of better rhythm for him. It still took a little bit while to get going,” Shanahan said about Lance’s play. “So, I thought it was smoother than last week, but by no means where we pumped about it. I was pumped how we finished, pumped about the win, some good things. But still have a lot to do to cleanup.”

The cleanup Shanahan is referring to was on the opening drive for Lance.

After getting the ball near midfield, the QB ran a running back screen pass to Jeremy McNichols. The Broncos defensive line read it and tipped the pass out of the air, falling in the hands of DL Elijah Garcia.

Notoriously a slow starter this preseason, Lance needs to work on getting into the flow of the game quicker, especially if he wants to be the team’s backup over Sam Darnold.

But for now, the 49ers are happy with the end result, as Lance continues to grow with each rep on the field.

“I feel like every time I step on the field, I learn so much. I get so much better from every rep, whether it’s practice, games or whatever. Just seeing as many pictures as I can and continuing to get as many reps as I can with these guys,” the QB stated Saturday.

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