SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' first exhibition game served its purpose for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo was off target -- way off target, in fact -- on half of his six pass attempts. But Garoppolo was anything but discouraged after his nine snaps under center produced a couple of first downs but ended with a punt.
"Obviously, there's always things that we can improve on," Garoppolo said after the 49ers' 24-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on Thursday night.
"It's good seeing different looks from a different defense than our own, seeing how plays play out against them versus what we're used to seeing. So there's always stuff to learn."
Garoppolo completed three of his six pass attempts for 34 yards, including an 18-yarder to Marquise Goodwin on a third-and-10 play. He also misfired on two other throws intended for Goodwin and overthrew tight end George Kittle on a deep seam route.
"(Those are) just different things that we're not used to throwing," Garoppolo said. "Just kind of try some new things. That's what preseason is for, to see what works and see what doesn't and move on from there."
Mullens Magic Time
Quarterback Nick Mullens remained on the 49ers' practice squad all of last season after arriving as an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi. He never got the call-up to the 53-man squad.
On Thursday, he had his best moment with the club, leading the 49ers back from a 21-10 deficit late in the fourth quarter for the victory. Mullens found Richie James with a 7-yard touchdown connection with :18 remaining for the winning points while the 49ers' sideline erupted in celebration.
"That was awesome," Garoppolo said. "It was an exciting way to end it."
Mullens is firmly stationed behind Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard on the 49ers' depth chart. But he and his fellow third-stringers took advantage of their opportunities to show their stuff.
"It was an awesome moment, and an awesome moment for our team," Mullens said. "The threes, we work together every day in practice. It was cool to just see us take advantage of our opportunities out there. It was a lot of fun. Everybody was locked in and we finished strong."
The No. 3 offense ran their two-minute drill to perfection. The 49ers drove 77 yards in six plays, taking over with exactly 2:00 remaining in regulation and scoring the winning points with :18 left.
Mullens hooked up on passes to running back Jeremy McNichols (9 yards), wide receiver Steven Dunbar (14 yards), tight end Ross Dwelley (26 yards), receiver Kendrick Bourne (back-to-back passes of 4 and 9 yards), and James for the go-ahead touchdown. Then, Mullens found newly signed tight end Wes Saxton on the two-point conversion.
"You know you're going to pass it and I like to pass, of course," Mullens said. "The receivers did a great job. Guys that we work with every day, the guys up front, we were just very in-tune, very locked in. We walked through that every single day of camp and it was cool to see it translate to the field."
Mullens completed 11 of 13 passes for 141 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Leading with the Helmet
Linebacker Elijah Lee was penalized in the third quarter for lowering his helmet to make contact with Cowboys running back Bo Scarbrough after an 11-yard pass completion. The helmet rule, making it illegal for a player to lower his head to initiate contact with the helmet, was passed during the offseason. Referee Ron Torbert spent four days last week with the 49ers and said he did not see one instance during the padded practices that would have warranted a penalty. Torbert's crew officiated Thursday's game. Lee took over when starter Malcolm Smith left with a hamstring injury. Lee led the 49ers with seven tackles
This ‘N' That
Rookie defensive lineman Jullian Taylor, a seventh-round pick from Temple, started in place of Arik Armstead. And he was still in the game in the fourth quarter to record an important quarterback sack, a key defensive play in the comeback win. But things did not go as planned early, as Taylor was exploited earlier as the Cowboys gained 15 yards running right at him on the first drive of the game. "It was probably just me getting the jitters out, honestly," Taylor said. "This was my first game and I started so it was kind of like, ‘Whoa.' Once I settled down and really got my feet under me, it got easier. It was just playing football at the end of the day." . . . Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers' first-round draft pick, played the entire first quarter and into the second quarter. He remained in when most of the other starters had already departed. "We planned to leave him in longer," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "For the most part, if I don't notice an O-lineman very much in the game especially on pass plays it usually means they did fairly good." . . . Defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner combined for a quarterback sack in the first quarter. . . .There were no 49ers players who took a knee to protest racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem. Goodwin raised his right fist.