Raiders 34, 49ers 7: Trey Lance sacked four times in rough return

Raiders 34, 49ers 7: Trey Lance sacked four times in rough return

LAS VEGAS — Trey Lance’s first touchdown pass in 363 days never reached its intended receiver. Instead, it nearly got intercepted, and, eventually, it bounced into Ross Dwelley’s sure hands in the end zone.

This, of course, is a great city to have luck turn your way.

But the 49ers need Lance to be both lucky and good. Otherwise, his potential job as Brock Purdy’s backup will belong to Sam Darnold, who had a pedestrian debut after Lance’s shaky, first-half duty in Sunday’s preseason opener at the Raiders.

The 34-7 final marked the most lopsided preseason loss in coach Kyle Shanahan’s seven seasons.

San Francisco 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley (82) scores a touchdown as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Duke Shelley (23) defends during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) 

The 49ers set this up to evaluate Lance under fire, and a sack-filled start was somewhat predictable behind a second-string offensive line. It was his first game since his right ankle got fractured and dislocated last Sept. 18 at Levi’s Stadium. Back then, he was QB1, a job that the 49ers have since reserved for Brock Purdy.

Purdy’s comeback from elbow surgery is on track for a Sept. 10 regular-season start at Pitttsburgh, so he did not suit up for Sunday’s game, nor did their other 21 projected starters.

With red-clad fans packed into Allegiant Stadium like the 49ers’ Jan. 1 triumph here, there wasn’t much to cheer for the “visiting” fans.

Lance got sacked four times, completed 10-of-15 passes for 112 yards, and had no interceptions thanks to Raiders’ defenders dropping two passes, including the touchdown throw that cornerback Duke Shelley cut off and bobbled over to Dwelley.

Darnold relieved Lance after halftime and delivered a couple of impressive completions ensued to get the 49ers into Raiders territory, only for that drive to end when Darnold got stopped on a fourth-and-1 sneak, behind third-string center Keith Ismael.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 13: Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers throws against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second quarter of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) 

Sunday began with Lance’s rough re-entry into NFL action — three sacks, no first downs in three series — before that touchdown pinball to Dwelley provided points.

Lance looked uncomfortable from the outset. He got stood up in the pocket and sacked on the game’s first snap, courtesy of right guard Nick Zakelj getting overpowered. The Raiders’ bombardment continued series after series.

As lucky as Lance’s touchdown pass was, his previous toss showed the play-making ability that got him drafted No. 3 overall in 2021. On that pass, he darted six paces up from the pocket before a last-second flip to Willie Snead for a 12-yard gain.

More quality passes followed — two-minute-drill completions to Chris Conley and Troy Fumagalli — but those came after another near-interception, with linebacker Amari Burney anticipating then dropping Lance’s over-the-middle throw.

Darnold seemed to play with more control but got snakebit along the way. He was stopped on a fourth-and-1 sneak, and Darnold’s other drives ended with rookie Cameron Latu fumbling a reception and rookie Jake Moody missing a 58-yard field goal.

Darnold’s day was done by early in the fourth quarter, having completed 5-of-8 passes for 84 yards. He was not sacked; he wisely rolled out to avoid one pressure before throwing away the ball.

Brandon Allen relieved Darnold and, on his first pass, he fired a 20-yard strike that went through Bell’s hands for an interception that Sam Webb returned to the 2-yard line. The Raiders scored on the next play for a 34-7 lead.

As the final minutes ticked away, Lance and Allen sat on the bench, studying video replays on their computer tablets, searching for answers ahead of their next test, Saturday against the Denver Broncos.

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Other observations from the preseason opener:

— Isaiah Oliver, signed this offseason to replace Jimmie Ward at nickel back, was essentially the only starter who suited up, and he allowed a 9-yard touchdown pass 34 seconds before halftime. That nickel role is vastly important, for it could expose a weak link that quarterbacks will exploit against a fierce pass rush, with the slot receiver often being the closest target to unload the ball.

— Moody, a third-round draft pick, did not make a great first impression. He missed wide left on a 40-yard field goal try as the first half expired, and he pushed a 58-yard try wide right in the fourth quarter.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 13: Defensive end Clelin Ferrell #94 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks quarterback Aidan O’Connell #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders in the first quarter of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) 

— Clelin Ferrell, a 2019 first-round pick of the Raiders, made a tackle for no gain on the first defensive series, and he came through with a sack against Aidan O’Connell, the Raiders’ starting quarterback in place of ex-49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who suited up but did not play. Ferrell, Lance and linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles served as the 49ers’ captains.

— Rookie tight end Cameron Latu fumbled a third-quarter reception and committed two penalties.

— Ty Davis-Price had a team-high nine carries (32 yards) and Jordan Mason had five carries (17 yards). Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell (adductor) did not suit up.

— The 49ers return home after a five-night residency in Las Vegas. Their remaining two preseason games are at Levi’s Stadium: Aug. 19 against the Denver Broncos (5:30 p.m.), Aug. 25 against the Los Angeles Chargers (7 p.m.).

— O’Connell completed 15-of-18 passes for 141 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions before the Raiders relieved him with Cal product Chase Garbers.