It wasn’t pretty; in fact, it was thoroughly ugly. But for the second week in a row, the Broncos are winners. Despite another rough stretch for Russell Wilson and the offense, Denver got the best of the 49ers on “Sunday Night Football,” forcing three turnovers and a safety to secure an 11-10 victory — just the second game in NFL history to finish with that score. The low-scoring affair vaults the Broncos to the top of the AFC West alongside the Chiefs, while dropping San Francisco below .500 in the NFC West.
Here are some instant takeaways from Sunday night’s cross-conference showdown:
Why the Broncos won
Nathaniel Hackett has a defense that can (barely) save his offense, which remains wholly without rhythm. In all seriousness, the Denver “D” was tough from start to finish but really stood tall in crunch time. Allowing just one third-down conversion all night, the unit saw four different players sack Jimmy Garoppolo, including Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell. A late-game pick and fumble recovery basically sealed their win, and instant pressure on Garoppolo earlier in the night forced the QB out of his own end zone for a safety that would prove fatal in the final score.
The less said about Hackett’s group, the better, for errant throws, shoddy protection and conservative calls still plagued them. But at least Wilson showed hints of his vintage dual-threat self down the stretch, connecting regularly with Courtland Sutton (8-97) to set up the go-ahead score. Their production would not have sufficed against an elite contender, but against a mistake- and injury-riddled 49ers squad, it was just enough.
Why the 49ers lost
Losing Trent Williams at left tackle in the third quarter didn’t help, but San Francisco’s issues ran deeper. Everything set them up for victory on a night in which Denver mostly stumbled all over itself while possessing the ball. And yet Kyle Shanahan’s offense, with Jimmy G at the helm, could only move the chains when it wasn’t third down, intermittently finding Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk in space but never stringing together splash plays. Jeff Wilson, averaging a healthy 6 yards per tote, was underused on the ground.
And Garoppolo, despite an efficient start and a few impressive precision throws, buckled in some bad spots, like when he accidentally dropped back out of the end zone for the safety or threw a pick into essentially triple coverage with the game on the line. Wilson’s own turnover, a fumble on their final drive, was a killer. So were their seven penalties, which spoiled an otherwise stout night from a defense that sacked Wilson four times and stressed him out many more.
You might look early in the game and call Garoppolo’s unintentional safety a big influence on the final score, but in terms of game flow, Wilson probably turned the tide the most, with his freestyling in the fourth quarter. Unable to push the ball downfield beforehand, Russ took it upon himself to scramble on a key third-and-10 with 8:16 left, and the Broncos down 10-5, finding Kendall Hinton on a beautiful 27-yard strike that helped set up the team’s only touchdown of the evening. Once Denver officially took the lead,…