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49ers make late push, fall short in preseason loss to Colts



© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Each of San Francisco’s first two preseason games came down to the final drive. Saturday’s contest in Indianapolis followed that trend, with the second and third-stringers trailing by six points with 70 seconds remaining.

Any hopes for another Nick Mullens-led comeback were squandered when he threw an interception on the second play of San Francisco’s final drive. The Colts took one knee to secure the win, 23-17.

But this matchup was about the starters. San Francisco’s first-team offense played into the first drive of the third quarter, and its defense played the entire first half.

Last week, the 49ers moved the ball, but untimely penalties and Dante Pettis’ drop, which led to an interception, derailed their second drive. Those same issues riddled the 49ers Saturday. Out of their five drives Saturday, Jimmy Garoppolo and company moved the ball into the red zone three times. They scored twice, via two Robbie Gould field goals.

The 49ers dropped five of Garoppolo’s passes, one of which came from tight end Cole Hikutini in the end zone for a would-be touchdown. On the first drive of the game, consecutive drops from Garrett Celek and Kendrick Bourne derailed San Francisco’s scoring chances.

The 49ers starting offense moved the ball, however, just as they did in two drives last week. They had 246 yards on five drives Saturday and averaged 5.9 yards per play. They converted five of 10 third down opportunities, three courtesy of running back Alfred Morris, who built a strong case for inclusion on the 53-man roster. In Morris’ first action of the 2018 preseason, he carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards. Morris, 29, was tremendous between the tackles and showed an ability to create extra yards through contact.

Garoppolo completed nine of his 19 passes for 135 yards. The drops hurt, but he also threw a couple passes near the goal line that were in danger of being intercepted.

Pierre Garcon was the leading receiver, catching two passes in quick succession for 62 yards.

Several important 49ers defensive players returned from injury, including Richard Sherman (hamstring), Arik Armstead (hamstring), and Solomon Thomas (concussion). All of them played the entire first half. Both Thomas, who had three tackles, and Armstead were forceful and penetrated the Colts backfield several times, though they didn’t record any sacks. Sherman broke up his lone target.

The 49ers entered the half trailing, 7-6. C.J. Beathard, who completed seven of his eight passes for 83 yards, led the 49ers 68 yards on their second offensive drive of the third quarter, ending in a Gould field goal to take a 9-7 lead. But the Colts responded with a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. They added a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 20-9.

Mullens led the 49ers 78 yards in just 61 seconds for a touchdown. He found Aldrick Robinson deep on the left sideline for a 35-yard catch that was downed at the one-yard line. Mullens ran for a touchdown one play later. On the ensuing two-point conversion, the Colts were flagged for roughing the passer, and running back Jeremy McNichols subsequently ran in the two-point conversion to cut Indianapolis’ lead to 20-17 with about four minutes remaining.

The Colts followed with a field goal. Mullens’ late interception sealed the 49ers’ loss. They are now 1-2 in the preseason.