49ers 35, Chargers 3

Antonio Gates ran over the middle and caught the pass from

Philip Rivers. He took a couple steps and had the ball stripped by

C.J. Spillman and roll all over the damp Candlestick Park grass and

into the arms of a defender.

Not exactly the lasting memory the San Diego Chargers wanted

heading into the regular season.

Gates fumbled and Rivers threw an interception on the first two

possessions – both against San Francisco’s reserves – in San

Diego’s 35-3 loss to the 49ers on Thursday night. The Chargers

finished the preseason 3-1 and somewhat unsettled following such a

lousy loss.

The one bit of good news: the game didn’t count.

”It’s something that’s definitely a rude awakening for this

team,” Gates said. ”I’m glad it happened. It’s one of those

things that happens and you’re upset, but it could be a positive

thing.”

That would be one of the few positives.

Rivers went 8 for 10 for 89 yards and the interception in one

quarter for San Diego, which will be back in the Bay Area to open

the season on Monday Night Football Sept. 10 at Oakland. Rivers

also tried to dodge another mistake, but San Francisco 49ers coach

Jim Harbaugh had none of that.

Harbaugh hollered at the replacement officials when they didn’t

initially call intentional grounding on Rivers’ left-handed throw

under pressure with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter. Neither

considered it a big deal afterward.

”The biggest thing that we’ve got to do is whoever has the

ball, when the play is over, we end up with it,” Chargers coach

Norv Turned quipped.

San Francisco had no problems picking up San Diego’s slack.

Delanie Walker caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from backup

quarterback Colin Kaepernick and starter Alex Smith handed off five

times before calling it a night. San Francisco also wrapped up the

preseason 3-1.

Walker returned to action for the first time since the

exhibition opener after he injured his right knee during practice

on Aug. 12. He missed time late last season with a broken left jaw

before returning for the NFC championship, so the TD catch will

only serve as a boost heading into the regular season next

weekend.

”I missed two preseason games, so just the opportunity to go

out there and play, I took advantage of it, and I had a great

time,” Walker said. ”I wanted to get my feet back under me, make

sure the knee was good. I felt like everything was perfect and had

a great game.”

Kaepernick connected with rookie first-round draft pick A.J.

Jenkins on a 12-yard score midway through the second quarter that

put the defending NFC West champion ahead 21-0. Kaepernick finished

12 for 18 for 158 yards and two touchdowns for the 49ers (3-1).

”Tonight was the first time I really felt like I just went out

there and let it loose and just played ball,” Kaepernick said.

”It felt good to finally get in a rhythm.”

Smith didn’t throw a pass in his short outing, handing the ball

to Kendall Hunter on the first four plays of the game and one more

to Jenkins. Anthony Dixon ran for a 1-yard TD.

”Just wanted him to go out and break a sweat,” Harbaugh

said.

San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called out his

unit – particularly the backups – after a 29-24 win at Denver on

Sunday night in which the Niners fell behind 17-0 in the first

quarter before rallying in the second half to win. This time, the

49ers starters got the night off completely on a windy, chilly

summer evening along the bay.

Not that San Diego did enough right on offense to give the No. 2

defense much of a test.

San Francisco’s Josh Johnson, fighting for the No. 3 quarterback

job with 2011 holdover Scott Tolzien, threw a 51-yard touchdown

pass to Nathan Palmer in the third quarter and another late in the

period to Garrett Celek for 3 yards.

Walker’s first-quarter touchdown catch – and Kaepernick’s first

career TD completion as he begins his second season with San

Francisco – was set up by safety Trenton Robinson’s 22-yard fumble

return.

Gates caught a 13-yard pass from Rivers, was stripped by

Spillman and Robinson recovered and ran.

”I didn’t realize how close he was to me,” Gates said. ”So

when I caught the ball, he was right there. It was kind of a

challenge for the ball at that point because I kind of carelessly,

loosely, brought the catch in. I know better than that.”

Two plays after the fumble, Walker caught the ball on a crossing

route to the left sideline and beat safety Atari Bigby at the 5

before spinning into the end zone for the Niners, who went 13-3

last year in a resurgent season under Harbaugh, the NFL Coach of

the Year.

”He was fired up about that play and made a tremendous athletic

play,” Harbaugh said.

Darcel McBath intercepted a pass by Rivers on San Diego’s next

possession. The Chargers are counting on Rivers to carry the

franchise back to its old winning ways as a contender in the AFC

West after two years out of the playoffs.

It gets much harder for Harbaugh’s crew now.

San Francisco opens the season at Green Bay on Sept. 9 in a big

test for two teams that consider themselves Super Bowl

contenders.

They would rather not rely quite so heavily on All-Pro kicker

David Akers and his NFL-record 44 field goals from 2011. Akers

missed a 47-yarder wide right on the last play of the first half

and went 8 for 9 in the preseason.

Nate Kaeding kicked a 27-yard field goal in the opening minute

of the fourth quarter for San Diego’s lone points.

”What was displayed today was not what we are about,” Gates

said, ”not what we worked this hard for.”

Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL