SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Aside from a handful of boneheaded penalties Jim Harbaugh will most certainly address this week, the San Francisco 49ers looked rather familiar in Week 3 of the preseason.
That winning formula that carried San Francisco back to the Super Bowl last season for the first time in 18 years is on display again with the season opener two weeks away.
Colin Kaepernick marched the offense with six straight completions during a series that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Patton, and Aldon Smith and Justin Smith plowed through Minnesota's offensive line to make plays and hard-hitting tackles in the 49ers' 34-14 exhibition victory over the Vikings on Sunday night.
"Justin Smith had a burr in his saddle or something tonight," Harbaugh said. "He was Justin Smith."
Sure, it's only the preseason. And there were a lot of foolish penalties.
Yet Kaepernick looks sharp, and the defense looks its usual stingy.
Justin Smith ran over two would-be blockers to pound Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss midway through the first quarter, and sack man Aldon Smith recovered a fumble and put pressure on Christian Ponder.
The new look in this one: flashy Lavelle Hawkins.
Hawkins returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter, but he received two unsportsmanlike penalties in the process -- one for pointing the ball at a Vikings player before reaching the end zone and another for removing his helmet in celebration. Harbaugh chewed him out on the sideline, and Hawkins could be seen saying, "My fault."
Yet Hawkins received another unsportsmanlike flag for head-butting linebacker Desmond Bishop after flipping the ball toward safety Mistral Raymond following a 22-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
"Those things are not OK to have, especially for the team, I don't care if it's the preseason. I apologized to the team and I apologized to Coach Harbaugh," Hawkins said. "I kind of let my emotions get ahold of me. I didn't think, to be honest, I'd be flagged on those. I learned from it."
There were a couple of other things Harbaugh didn't like -- Nick Moody's helmet-to-helmet hit on wideout Stephen Burton that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty in the third quarter, and a face mask by cornerback Perrish Cox on the same Minnesota scoring drive.
After a week of long practices as the Vikings tried to get their stagnant offense on a roll, there were considerable strides.
Ponder threw a pair of touchdown passes while playing three quarters.
He connected on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Zach Line late in the first half for the quarterback's first TD completion of the preseason, then threw an interception in Minnesota's final series before halftime. In the Vikings' opening drive of the second half, Ponder hit Joe Webb with a 3-yard scoring pass.
"That drive in the third quarter, we kind of got that experience of establishing some rhythm on offense," Ponder said. "We ended on a good note."
Reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson didn't touch the ball in two snaps of action for Minnesota, making his preseason debut -- and first appearance in the exhibition schedule since 2011 -- as he begins a year in which he will try to become the first player with consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons.
"It was definitely limited but I felt like it was kind of effective getting the play-action in," he said. "It is all about keeping your body in shape, doing the necessary things ... just making sure your body is ready to roll."
Ponder went 17 of 23 for 116 yards, a step up after two unimpressive outings and a 28.3 passer rating in his first two exhibition games.
This hardly looked like the Vikings' group that handed the NFC champion Niners their first loss last fall, a 24-13 victory Sept. 23 in Minneapolis.
On the third play of the game, Ponder fumbled and gave the 49ers the ball at the Vikings 11. Ahmad Brooks swiped the ball away and Aldon Smith recovered.
San Francisco then went ahead on a 30-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, who added a 50-yarder before halftime.
The 49ers saw a couple of new players for the first time in quarterback Seneca Wallace and wideout Jon Baldwin, not to mention a familiar face in backup running back Kendall Hunter. Returning from a torn Achilles tendon injury that ended his season in late November and required surgery, Hunter scampered 15 yards on his first carry since the injury.
That first-quarter run gave San Francisco first down during the 49ers' third series.
Kaepernick began the game 1 for 7, then converted his next six pass attempts during that touchdown drive -- including four in a row of 10 or more yards. Vernon Davis caught back-to-back receptions of 10 and 11 yards, and Patton and Marlon Moore each had two receptions in the series.
SAINTS 31, TEXANS 23
HOUSTON -- Houston's Andre Johnson had 131 yards receiving before halftime in his first extended work of the preseason, and New Orleans' backups scored two touchdowns in the second half to help the Saints rally.
Johnson didn't play in the preseason opener and had less than a quarter of work last week. On Sunday, he grabbed seven of the eight passes thrown to him, highlighted by a 39-yard reception.
Matt Schaub threw for 213 yards for Houston (2-1), and Ben Tate had 74 yards rushing and a score filling in for Arian Foster.
Drew Brees threw for 104 yards and a touchdown for New Orleans (3-0) before sitting out after the third possession. With Marques Colston still out with a left foot injury, rookie fifth-round pick Kenny Stills continued to impress with 54 yards receiving and a touchdown.
COWBOYS 24, BENGALS 18
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes and the Dallas Cowboys' first-team offense finally got into the end zone, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 24-18 on Saturday night.
After completing 13 of 18 passes for 137 yards, with TD passes to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin for a 14-7 halftime lead, Romo was done for the Cowboys (2-2).
Cincinnati (2-1) got its first touchdown on Brandon Tate's 75-yard punt return. That came when Cowboys punter Chris Jones had to re-kick after hitting the large video boards hanging over the field.
Romo played five series, matching what the first-teamers had in the Cowboys' last two preseason games, when they managed only a field goal and had two fumbles.
Andy Dalton was 12 of 16 for 113 yards. Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green had three catches for 42 yards after missing the first two preseason games with a bruised left knee.
JETS 24, GIANTS 21, OT
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Billy Cundiff kicked a 32-yard field goal with 8:04 left in overtime to lift the Jets past the Giants.
It's the only time the rivals will play this year unless they qualify for the cold-weather Super Bowl here in February. The way the Jets (2-1) and Giants (1-2) played, it's highly unlikely.
The Jets quarterback picture got even murkier, too, despite winning the annual bragging rights game.
Rookie Geno Smith struggled. Mark Sanchez seemingly hurt his right shoulder, and his status is suddenly in question two weeks before the season opener. The only guy who looked good was Matt Simms.
The Jets' quarterback situation has been the No. 1 question mark for Rex Ryan's team since training camp opened. The seriousness of Sanchez's injury was not immediately known, and Smith didn't look ready for prime time.
BRONCOS 27, RAMS 26
DENVER -- Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree ruined Ronnie Hillman's night with a strip-and-score takeaway and kept Peyton Manning from turning all those passes into points with a big interception. Yet St. Louis lost.
Ogletree ripped the ball from Hillman's arms, scooped it up and trotted 13 yards for the score one week after Hillman's fumble at the goal line was returned 106 yards for a touchdown in Seattle.
Manning completed 25 of 34 passes for 234 yards in one half for Denver (2-1), but Ogletree's pickoff just before halftime set up Greg Zuerlein's 58-yarder field goal that gave the Rams (0-3) a 20-10 lead at the break.
Ogletree also had a half-dozen tackles and two pass breakups in his breakout preseason performance.
COLTS 27, BROWNS 6
INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck threw two scoring passes, and Indianapolis' defense did not allow a touchdown for the second straight week as the Colts beat Cleveland.
The Colts (2-1) scored on the opening series of both halves before Luck and most of the starters exited early in the third quarter. Luck finished 16 of 25 for 164 yards with one interception.
Cleveland (2-1) managed only four first downs and lined up for only three plays in Indianapolis territory against Colts starters. Four days after being named the starter, quarterback Brandon Weeden went 12 of 25 for 105 yards. Trent Richardson ran seven times for 31 yards.
CHIEFS 26, STEELERS 20, OT
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Kansas City's Alex Smith fought to a first-half draw and the Chiefs beat the Steelers in overtime.
Roethlisberger was 13 of 19 for 166 yards and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Dwyer as the Steelers (0-3) shook off two lethargic performances with easily their best 30 minutes of the preseason.
Smith struggled early but led Kansas City to a pair of scoring drives late in the first half and finished 17 of 24 for 158 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles ran seven times for 10 yards in his first game after spraining his right foot earlier this month.
Kansas City (1-2) won it on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Chase Daniel to Rico Richardson on the first possession of overtime.
CHARGERS 24, CARDINALS 7
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan Mathews rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown in a half of play and San Diego beat mistake-prone Arizona for its first preseason victory under new coach Mike McCoy.
The Chargers (1-2) blocked a punt, blocked a field goal and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
The Cardinals (2-1) lost several players due to injury, including left guard Jonathan Cooper, the team's first-round pick who broke his left leg and was helped off the field in the third quarter.
Arizona's Rashard Mendenhall carried six times for 47 yards before leaving with an ankle injury.
Philip Rivers completed 10 of 18 passes for 71 yards with an interception. Arizona's Carson Palmer was 12 of 23 for 122 yards and a TD.
EAGLES 31, JAGUARS 24
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bryce Brown and Chris Polk ran for fourth-quarter touchdowns, and Philadelphia rallied to beat Jacksonville.
Nick Foles, who lost the starting job to Michael Vick earlier in the week, completed 10 of 11 passes for 112 yards in the second half for the Eagles (2-1). Vick completed 15 of 23 passes for 184 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He found Riley Cooper for a 9-yard score in the second quarter. Vick's best work came under pressure, when he kept several plays alive and scrambled for 53 yards.
Jacksonville's Chad Henne, who lost the starting job to Blaine Gabbert earlier in the week but got the start because Gabbert has a broken thumb, completed 11 of 18 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. The Jaguars are 0-3.
BUCCANEERS 17, DOLPHINS 16
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami's first-team offense scored its only TD just before halftime on its 17th play inside the Tampa Bay 20, but the Buccaneers scored with 1:03 left in the game to win.
Miami's starters netted 180 yards playing the entire first half, their most extensive outing in four exhibition games. Ryan Tannehill went 17 for 27 for 150 yards and a 4-yard score to Brandon Gibson with 10 seconds left in the half for a 13-10 lead.
The score could have been lopsided in the Dolphins' favor, but Gibson and Brian Hartline dropped potential touchdown passes, and twice they settled for short field goals.
Miami fell to 1-3 with one exhibition game left. The Buccaneers improved to 1-2, but their first-team offense sputtered again.
TITANS 27, FALCONS 16
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker threw for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Tennessee sacked Matt Ryan five times.
Locker got both his first TD and the first turnover this preseason for the Titans (1-2). The third-year quarterback also posted his best game yet as he completed 11 of 13 passes and finished with a 134.9 passer rating before leaving after a series in the third quarter.
Ryan had Tony Gonzalez back after the veteran tight end reported to the Falcons this week. But a Tennessee defense without four starters got to Ryan repeatedly, including three times on third downs. Julio Jones was thrown at eight times with Roddy White resting an injured ankle, and dropped a couple while also drawing an offensive pass interference penalty.
Jeremy Shelley hit three of four field goals for Atlanta (0-3).