Jim Druckenmiller wanted to make a statement. He settled for making some progress.
The understudy to Steve Young got most of the playing time but had little to show for it as the San Francisco 49ers beat the New England Patriots 14-13 in an exhibition opener Sunday night.
Young played long enough to throw for a touchdown and cornerback Darnell Walker scored on a 1-yard fumble return.
Druckenmiller, a second-year pro being groomed as San Francisco's quarterback of the future, threw for 100 yards in more than two quarters of play but also was intercepted twice.
"It was a long day but it felt really good to be out there," said Druckenmiller, who started one game in place of an injured Young last season but otherwise spent most of the season on the bench. "I'm pretty happy with my performance overall, although I'm not pleased about the two interceptions. But I definitely made progress."
San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said the outing by Druckenmiller, who completed 10 of 14 throws, was encouraging, despite the mistakes.
"I thought he managed the offense well," he said. "He's more settled than he was last season. He threw a couple of nice balls. You never like to have interceptions, certainly not in the red zone. But it's another step for Druck. Chalk this game up to experience. He'll get more."
Jerry Rice watched the game from the sidelines on coach Stee Mariucci's orders. Rice, who missed all but two games last season because of two major injuries to his left knee, is in the midst of a comeback but the 49ers are being cautious not to rush him back.
Drew Bledsoe was erratic in his 1998 debut, going 3-for-9 with an interception. And the Patriots, trying to adapt to the offseason free agency loss of running back Curtis Martin, struggled to sustain their attack while committing three turnovers.
"It was frustrating," Bledsoe said. "The first half we did enough things to lose to any team in the NFL. I'm glad it was a preseason game. We made preseason mistakes but they are not acceptable."
Scott Zolak relieved Bledsoe in the second quarter and led three scoring drives but fumbled in the end zone, leading to a San Francisco touchdown. Zolak finished 18-of-34 for 180 yards.
Young played just two series and completed 5-of-9 passes for 64 yards, including a 2-yard TD toss to Garrison Hearst.
Druckenmiller was intercepted twice and failed to get a score for San Francisco while playing for more than two quarters. Ty Detmer, making his San Francisco debut, came on in the fourth quarter to finish at quarterback for the 49ers.
Sedrick Shaw, who fumbled earlier in the game, scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter, pulling New England within 14-10. Zolak's 8-yard touchdown pass to Lovett Purnell was negated by a pass interference call on Purnell but San Francisco safety Zack Bronson was penalized for interfering with Brian Stablien, moving the ball to the 1 to set up New England's lone touchdown.
Adam Vinatieri kicked his second field goal, a 31-yarder with 14:08 remaining but that proved to be New England's final score.
Patriots turnovers set up both San Francisco touchdowns and the 49ers led 14-3 at halftime.
The Patriots scored with a 27-yard field goal by Vinatieri as time expired in the second quarter, driving 54 yards under Zolak to the San Francisco 10 after the 49ers went up 14-0 on Walker's 1-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Jeff Posey, bidding for a backup job on San Francisco's defensive line, broke through to sack Zolak. The ball popped loose and Zolak swatted it out of the end zone, but Walker got to it at the 1 and stepped in for the score.
Linebacker Winfred Tubbs, a free-agent pickup from New Orleans, forced a fumble by Shaw that was recovered by linebacker Lee Woodall and returned 4 yards to the New England 35. On a 3rd-and-15 play, Young connected with Mark Harris on a 28-yard pass to the 2, and then finished the drive with a 2-yard scoring pass to Hearst.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved