Sport: Broncos defense bails out AWOL offense with safety, two late takeaways in 11-10 primetime win over 49ers

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When the Broncos offense went AWOL in prime time, the Denver defense was there to save the day.

Pat Surtain II (2) of the Denver Broncos involves the crowd against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday, September 25, 2022. © AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/TNS Pat Surtain II (2) of the Denver Broncos involves the crowd against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday, September 25, 2022.

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.

It was a statement performance by the Denver D, one that outside linebacker Bradley Chubb believes should put the NFL on notice.

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“Look at the forced fumble, the pick, the (four) sacks, and it just starts adding up,” Chubb said. “I don’t want to get too brash in saying this, but: We’re the best in the (expletive) league.”

Melvin Gordon’s one-yard TD run with 4:13 left was the Broncos’ lone touchdown, and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s unit did the rest. Jonas Griffith picked off Jimmy Garoppolo on the 49ers’ penultimate possession, off Kareem Jackson’s tip, and then Jackson recovered P.J. Locke’s strip of 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. on San Francisco’s final drive to seal the win.

“(The defense) went out there and put the game on our shoulders in the fourth quarter,” Chubb said.

Gordon’s touchdown capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and gave the Broncos their first lead. It also snapped Denver’s 0-for-6 start in the red zone to begin the season, and was the highlight on a day where the offense had few of them. Both teams combined for 17 punts, and San Francisco’s Jimmy G (81.2 rating) was slightly better than Wilson, though both were subpar.

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“In the fourth quarter, when it mattered most, we clicked,” Wilson said of the offense.

Denver held San Francisco’s rushing attack to just 88 yards, as the Broncos’ D-line won the battle of the trenches early and often. And the Broncos came away with three takeaways overall.

“We knew we had to stop the run and force them to do something else, that they weren’t comfortable doing,” nose tackle Mike Purcell said. “We were pretty effective doing that… For us on defense, we’re going to grind and not worry about (the limelight), and just make sure we get the knockout win.”

Inside linebacker Josey Jewell played with his hair on fire in his season debut coming off a calf injury. Jewell led the Broncos with nine total tackles (five solo), with a sack, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

After the Broncos forced a punt on San Francisco’s opening drive, Denver went three-and-out. The 49ers took the lead on the second possession, with a six-play, 75-yard scoring march culminating in Garoppolo’s three-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk.

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But as defensive end Dre’Mont Jones explained, the 49ers’ early score didn’t phase the Broncos defense, which quickly settled in after that.

“We knew this was going to be a dogfight,” Jones said. “That was the ugliest  game I’ve ever played in, but I think that was my first real, live, NFL street fight.”

The Broncos promptly went three-and-out again, but the Denver defense bowed up to keep the 49ers from running away with the game early. Josey sacked Garoppolo for a 10-yard loss to force a punt.

But the Broncos went three-and-out again, and only managed Brandon McManus’ 55-yard field goal in the second quarter as the team’s lone scoring of the first half. Plus, outside linebacker Baron Browning injured his knee in the final moments before half, and did not return.

The second half brought more of the same stale offense by the home team, and a chorus of boos from the Empower Field faithful who were expecting a lot more from No. 3 & Co.

Denver punted on its first two third-quarter possessions, wasting a San Francisco fumble on a botched snap by Garoppolo in-between. But the defense capitalized on a precision punt by Corliss Waitman, which pinned the 49ers at their own 2-yard line.

Two plays later, Garoppolo dropped back to pass and lost awareness of where he was in his own end zone. Pursued by Purcell, the QB stepped out of bounds. San Francisco was hit with a safety, and Purcell credited with a sack to cut the score to 7-5, even though Chubb picked off the pass and returned it to the end zone.

On the ensuing possession, the Broncos had a drive going but stalled, and McManus missed a 53-yard field goal wide right. The 49ers held on to a two-point lead, and added to that advantage the next drive with Robbie Gould’s 51-yard field goal.

San Francisco’s final attempts to win the game were stymied by the Broncos’ defense.

“We put it on ourselves to go out and finish the game, and we did,” cornerback Pat Surtain II said. “Not just two stops, two takeaways. That was an exclamation point (for the defense).”

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