When the Broncos offense faded into prime time, Denver’s defense was there to save the day.
The Broncos forced two turnovers in the final 2:13 of the game, and also had a safety that ended up being the difference in an 11-10 win over the 49ers on Sunday Night Football at Empower Field.
Melvin Gordon’s one-yard run with 4:13 to go was the Broncos’ only touchdown, and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s unit did the rest. Jonas Griffith knocked out Jimmy Garoppolo on the 49ers’ second-to-last possession, on Kareem Jackson’s tip, then Jackson’s fumble recovery on PJ Locke’s strip on San Francisco’s final drive sealed the game.
Gordon’s touchdown capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and gave the Broncos their first lead. It also broke Denver’s 0-6 start in the red zone to start the season, and was the highlight of a day when the offense had little. The two teams combined for 16 punts, and San Francisco’s Jimmy G (81.2 score) was slightly better than Wilson.
Denver limited San Francisco’s rushing offense to just 88 yards, as the Broncos’ D line won the trench battle early and often.
“We knew we had to stop the run and force them to do something else, which they weren’t comfortable doing,” tackle Mike Purcell said. “We were pretty good at doing that… For us in defense, we’re going to grind and not worry (from the limelight), and make sure we get the knockout win.”
Inside linebacker Josey Jewell played with his hair on fire on his season debut after a calf injury. Jewell led the Broncos with nine total tackles (five solo), with one sack, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
After the Broncos forced a punt on San Francisco’s first practice, Denver went three times. The 49ers took the lead on second possession, with a six-play, 75-yard walk culminating in Jimmy Garoppolo’s three-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk.
The Broncos quickly went to three, but Denver’s defense bowed to prevent the 49ers from running away with the game early. Josey sacked Garoppolo for a 10-yard loss to force a punt.
But the Broncos again scored a hat-trick and only managed Brandon McManus’ 55-yard field goal in the second quarter, the team’s lone scorer in the second half. Also, outside linebacker Baron Browning injured his knee in the final moments before halftime and did not return.
The second half brought more of the same obsolete offense by the home team, and a chorus of boos from the Empower Field faithful who expected much more from No 3 & Co.
Denver got its first two possessions in the third quarter, squandering a San Francisco fumble on a sloppy snap from Garoppolo between the two. But the defense capitalized on a precision punt from Corliss Waitman, which pinned the 49ers on their own two-yard line.
Two plays later, Garoppolo backed up to pass and lost consciousness of where he was in his own end zone. Pursued by Purcell, the QB went out of bounds. San Francisco was hit by a safety and Purcell was credited with a sack to make it 7-5.
On the ensuing possession, the Broncos had a drive but stalled, and McManus missed a 53-yard field goal on the right. The 49ers held on to a two-point lead and added to that advantage the next practice with Robbie Gould’s 51-yard field goal.