Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson dives for a first down to extend a drive at Empower Field at Mile High against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Sep 25, 2022. (Niners Wire)
by Marko Ukalovic
It was an ugly ending to an ugly looking football game.
The Denver Broncos defense needed two turnovers at the end of the game to defeat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday 11-10 in a sloppy game on Sunday evening at Empower Field at Mile High.
Denver quarterback Russell Wilson, stymied by San Francisco’s defense for the most of the game, came alive early in the fourth quarter using both his arm and his legs to engineer a 12 play 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed 6:04 of the clock.
Wilson was able to get himself out of tight jams during the drive, either by running for first downs when the pocket collapsed or finding receivers at the last second, including a clutch pass to Kendal Hinton for 27 yards on a third down and 10. Running back Melvin Gordon III capped off the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown to give Denver its only lead of the game with 4:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
“Really in the fourth quarter, I had to kind of use my legs and kind of take over,” Wilson said. “Just try to move around and find some first downs. Kendall Hinton making that big play. I went left—I guess I can still go left.”
San Francisco (1-2) drove into Broncos territory with under three minutes remaining. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was pressured by Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell, who was a thorn in the side of the Niners offense all night, and forced a errant throw into double coverage trying to connect with wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The ball was tipped up in the air and intercepted by Jonas Griffith at the Denver 41-yard line
The 49ers defense gave the offense one more chance for a winning drive when it forced a three and out and regained the ball with 1:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The drive lasted just two plays when running back Jeff Wilson Jr. had the ball punched out of his hands after a reception by P.J. Locke. Kareem Jackson recovered the ball at the 49ers 24-yard line to seal the fate for San Francisco.
San Francisco drew first blood on their second offensive possession. Garoppolo led a six play 75-yard scoring drive that took just over the three minutes. Garoppolo hooked up with Brandon Aiyuk on a quick slant route for a three yard touchdown reception. The drive was aided with a 37-yard run from running back Wilson Jr.
That would be as good as it got for the 49ers as their second half woes on offense was a combination of poorly called plays, penalties and turnovers that prevented them for extending their lead and repeating the success they had moving the ball in the first half.
“In the second half, never got into a rhythm. When we did, we had that fumbled snap. Got backed up (in our own end), went into the safety. Had another turnover. Didn’t get the run game quite going. When you don’t convert a third down till I think that last drive, it’s usually not a good recipe (for success),” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Denver (2-1) had nothing to write home about on offense in the first half as Wilson, who was very familiar going up against that defense when he played in Seattle, could not establish a rhythm with the first three series ending in three straight three and outs. The Broncos managed to get a 55-yard field goal from Brandon McManus early in the second quarter.
The momentum of the game changed at the 9:51 mark of the third quarter. Backed up at their own two-yard line, Garoppolo dropped back to throw a pass out to the flat, but stepped out of bounds before he threw ball resulting in a safety (which would’ve been a pick-6 by Bradley Chubb had he not stepped out) cutting the lead down to 7-5.
“That was a tough situation I put him (Garoppolo) in. We made too many mistakes. I don’t think anyone played well on offense, including myself (in the second half),” Shanahan said.
San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams was injured on the play when his legs were taken out from behind him by Dre’Mont Jones that resulted in a high ankle sprain. He did not return to the game.
Despite tight end George Kittle’s debut where he caught four balls for 28 yards, the 49ers offense was stagnant and was dominated by Denver’s defense.
“That’s just bad offense,” said Kittle when recounting all the offense’s mistakes. “Especially when the defense is playing the way they are, giving us opportunities. I think our goal is much higher than that, but at the lowest we can’t do that.”
Wilson finished with a subpar game going 20 of 33 for 184 yards with no touchdowns but didn’t throw a interception. He was sacked four times for 24 yards. Courland Sutton led Denver in receiving with eight catches for 97 yards. Running back Javonte Williams chipped in with 58 yards on 15 carries.
“In the end, it’s just about one more point than the other team. I give so much credit to the 49ers, they’re a phenomenal team. Their defense, their offense, they are a very good team. So that was a heck of a battle,” Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
Garoppolo went 18 of 29 for 211 yards with one touchdown and that one critical interception. He was also sacked four times for 32 yards. Samuel had five catches for 73 yards to lead San Francisco in receiving. Wilson Jr. contributed 75 yards on the ground on 12 carries.
GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished a dismal 1-for-10 on third down conversions. Denver went 6-for-19.
San Francisco linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair suffered a knee injury in the second half which Shanahan believed it could be an MCL injury.
The 49ers defense forced 10 punts, marking the most punts recorded by an opponent against the Niners since 2016 (10 punts vs Los Angeles Rams 9/12/16).
Wilson is now 17-4 in his career against San Francisco.
UP NEXT: San Francisco returns home to host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football 10/3 at 5:15pm at Levi’s Stadium.