SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Alex Smith and Jay Cutler both looked ready to shoulder the big responsibilities they’ll carry this season.
Smith went 4-for-5 for 58 yards passing while leading two first-quarter scoring drives for the 49ers, and Cutler was sharp in limited action for Denver in the Broncos’ 17-13 preseason victory over San Francisco on Monday night.
Neither team scored in the final 19 minutes, and the Broncos’ defense stopped the 49ers at the Denver 3 with 1:21 to play as the clubs finally played the NFL’s last exhibition opener, a full eight days after the Hall of Fame game kicked off the preseason.
But Smith, the 2005 No. 1 draft pick in his third season with San Francisco, built on his promising efforts in practice with a poised, precise quarter. With his third offensive coordinator in three seasons and a new crop of receivers, Smith would have excuses for slow development.
He didn’t need any in the opener.
“I felt a lot more comfortable than I’ve ever played,” Smith said. “Knowing what's happening and reading defenses, everything is really slowing down. I felt really comfortable about that.”
The clubs met in their regular-season finales last New Year’s Eve, when the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime victory kept Cutler and the Broncos out of the playoffs. Both teams will head into this season with postseason expectations resting on their young franchise quarterbacks.
Cutler led a 67-yard scoring drive while playing just two series for Denver. After claiming the starting job from Jake Plummer with five weeks left last season, Cutler believes he’ll find it easier to take charge of the offense with a strong training camp behind him.
“Last year there were a lot of ‘ifs,’” Cutler said. “I was learning the playbook, the new teammates, the new city. This year I’m a little more established, a lot more confident, so it’s a whole different ballgame.”
The Broncos played without defensive tackle Gerard Warren amid reports they’re trying to trade the seven-year veteran. Amon Gordon started in place of Warren, who didn’t make the trip to Candlestick Park.