49ers 23, Chargers 14

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—Michael Robinson admits it wasn’t easy giving up his dream of playing quarterback in the NFL. Maybe it helps that his transition to running back is going very smoothly.

Robinson ran for two touchdowns in the second quarter to help the San Francisco 49ers end the preseason with a 23-14 victory Friday night over a San Diego Chargers team still searching for a backup quarterback.

“At first it was tough because you get so many people saying you can’t (play quarterback),” Robinson said. “Before last season at Penn State, so many people said you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I went out and won offensive player of the year in Big Ten and the Orange Bowl and now people are saying Penn State is back. You always want the chance to prove people wrong.

“But when you have people paying your bills, you’re going to do what they want you to do.”

Attracted by his athleticism and versatility, the 49ers picked him in the fourth round and are seeing the move pay off. With starter Frank Gore getting a rest to avoid possible injury, Robinson got his most extensive action of the preseason and delivered on the opportunity. He carried 12 times for 59 yards, scoring on runs of 1 and 13 yards in the second quarter.

“Early on in minicamp he was getting a lot of runs for us,” coach Mike Nolan said. “He showed a lot early. We kept putting him in there. Having played quarterback I think he has a better understanding of the offense than a lot other guys have.”

The Chargers held out quarterback Philip Rivers, who hurt his shoulder last week but is expected to play when San Diego opens the season across San Francisco Bay against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 11.

All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has not played at all this preseason to avoid injuries, also sat out, along with tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Keenan McCardell.

Rivers’ absence allowed the Chargers to give valuable playing time to backup quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and Brett Elliott, the two rookies who will back up the inexperienced Rivers this season.

“The first thing we set out to do was to give some of these young players an opportunity, particularly these quarterbacks, to see exactly where they are at this point,” Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

The Chargers waived A.J. Feeley earlier in the week, leaving them with three quarterbacks who have zero NFL starts and one touchdown pass among them. They have groomed Rivers to take over since using a first-round pick on him in 2004.

Whitehurst threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Floyd in the first quarter but was intercepted twice and finished 5-for-9 for 52 yards.

Elliott also was intercepted twice and finished 5-for-10 for 46 yards.

“You can’t turn the ball over as many times as we did and expect to win, particularly on the road,” Schottenheimer said. “We have to fix it.”

San Diego’s only score after the first quarter came when Cletis Gordon intercepted a pass from Shaun Hill and streaked 85 yards down the sideline for the score.

Robinson was the offensive star for the 49ers, who made it into the end zone only once in each of the past two preseason games. Quarterback Alex Smith played only three series, completing one of four passes for 11 yards.

“It would have been nice to score some points or put a drive together and get down to the red zone,” Smith said. “There are things we need to work on but there were some good things tonight. Our focus is on next week.”

One of the biggest roster decisions left for San Francisco is at punter, where incumbent Andy Lee and 14-year veteran Tom Rouen are competing for the job.

Lee punted three times, pinning the Chargers at the 4 on a 30-yard punt in the first quarter and had a 49-yarder from deep in his own territory.

“He did a nice job when he was backed up,” Nolan said. “Certainly he helped himself today. … That was a big punt.”

Rouen’s only punt was a 29-yarder that Markus Curry fumbled at the 18.


LB Manny Lawson, one of San Francisco’s two first-round picks, had an interception against Whitehurst in the second quarter. … The Chargers will return to the Bay Area two more times this season for the season opener against the Raiders and Oct. 15 against San Francisco. … The Niners open the season at Arizona a week from Sunday.

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