Russell Wilson, Broncos edge 49ers in ugly Sunday Night Football game – USA TODAY

  • September 27, 2022

DENVER — If offense is your cup of tea, hopefully you did not wait all day for “Sunday Night Football” this weekend.
The Denver Broncos, held without an touchdown into the fourth quarter at home for the second straight week, looked anemic offensively for most of the night but conjured a 12-play, 80-yard march that culminated in a one-yard Melvin Gordon touchdown run – Denver’s first touchdown in seven red zone chances this season – and a strange-as-the-score-looks 11-10 win against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. 
“The way our defense was playing, we knew we’d have a chance,” Denver center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “It was ugly, but a win’s a win.” 
San Francisco had two chances with the ball after Denver took the lead, but a Jimmy Garoppolo interception just before the two-minute warning and a Jeff Wilson Jr. fumble with 65 seconds left allowed the Broncos to escape. 
All in all, a sparkling outing for Denver’s stout defense and an ugly night for both offenses. 
San Francisco led most of the game, in part because Jimmy Garoppolo provided a sequel to the infamous Dan Orlovsky safety by running out of the back of the end zone during the third quarter. Denver got the two points to get within 7-5, but would have had a touchdown because Garoppolo’s throw – which came with both of his feet out of bounds – was intercepted by outside linebacker Bradley Chubb and returned for what would have been a touchdown.
“Tough situation,” said Garoppolo, making his first start of the year after Trey Lance was lost for the season to an ankle injury last week. “Just trying to buy some time for the play. Yeah, that was a tough situation.” 
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It wasn’t the only offensive lowlight in a primetime game filled with them.
The 49ers missed their first nine third-down tries and didn’t convert one until the 3:25 mark of the fourth quarter. 
The Broncos went three-and-out on eight of their first 11 possessions before Wilson engineered the late scoring drive. 
The teams combined for 21 points and 17 punts. 
Wilson played well in a Week 1 loss against Seattle and then has struggled for wide swaths of the past two weekends. With the chips down in the fourth quarter of both outings, though, he delivered go-ahead touchdown drives.
“When we needed a big drive there at the end, Russell came through,” Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “He started running around and making plays. It was a thing of beauty. At the end of the day, it’s about having one more point than the other team.”
Last week, a 22-yard seam ball to tight end Eric Saubert put Denver ahead of Houston and in position for a 16-9 victory.
Sunday night, Wilson engineered a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that featured multiple clutch conversions. On a third-and-10 early in the drive, he didn’t find anything he liked early in the progression – that happened too often against the 49ers, who sacked Wilson four times – and bought time before scrambling to his left and finding practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton for 27 yards and a first down.
“I went left. I guess I can still go left,” Wilson said, referencing suggestions that he struggles to throw the ball that direction.
On a third-and-6 later in the drive, Wilson again pulled the ball down and this time took off up the middle for 10 yards on his own.
Then he hit Courtland Sutton (eight catches for 97) for 19 on a back-shoulder throw to set Denver up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
The red zone had been Denver’s nemesis through three weeks, the team without a touchdown in six trips when they finally visited for the first time late Sunday night. This time, no trouble. Melvin Gordon plowed ahead for four yards and then, with an extra offensive lineman in the game, off left tackle and into the end zone for a much-needed touchdown.
“During the drive, when Russell was making them scrambling plays, it was like watching one of those NFL Films shows during the week,” Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “There he is again. Great quarterback making great plays when he was needed.”
Wilson’s passing numbers on 21 of 23 non-kneeldown offensive possessions the past two weeks: 25-of-53 for 275 and an interception.  
Wilson on two go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown drives in those games: 9-of-11 for 128 and a TD and third-down conversions from 16 and 10 through the air and six with his legs.
“I’m excited because I can feel it,” Wilson said. “Everything is just that close. Once we do (click) with our defense, they way they’re playing, it’s going to be unstoppable, I think. 
“We’ve got a chance.” 
The Broncos came out on the winning side the past two weeks largely because of a defense that, even without standout safety Justin Simmons (short-term IR with a quad injury) is proving to be a stout one.
On this night, they held San Francisco to 88 yards, nearly 100 below their early season average. They forced two takeaways in the final 2:06, the first an interception by former San Francisco practice squad linebacker Jonas Griffith and the second a terrific forced fumble in pursuit from dime defensive back P.J. Locke, who tracked down running back Jeff Wilson from behind and knocked the ball free and into the waiting arms of veteran safety Kareem Jackson.
Denver has scored 16, 16 and 11 points in its first three games, a concern moving forward, but first-year coordinator Ejiro Evero’s unit has allowed just 36 points and a 26.5% conversion rate on third down.
So dominant was the end-of-game sequence that afterward, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb looked into one of the team’s cameras and yelled, “We’re the best defense in the (expletive) league.”
Ugly as it was at times for Denver, the team incidentally had by far the best day of anybody in the vaunted AFC West, widely considered to be the best division in football. The other three AFC West teams lost Sunday. The Los Angeles Chargers were blown out, 38-10, by Jacksonville while Las Vegas lost, 24-22, at Tennessee and Kansas City fell to 2-1 with a 20-17 loss to Indianapolis.