It is one of the more unusual storylines in sports: A team ready to embrace the future has unexpectedly been forced back into the past. After the initial shock at losing new franchise quarterback Trey Lance last week for the rest of the season, San Francisco 49er fans were happy to get nostalgic and walk down memory lane when Jimmy Garoppolo took the helm again. It seemed as if Jimmy G was just riding an old, familiar bike — he looked absolutely gorgeous against the Niners' division rival Seattle Seahawks in a decisive victory.
Given the gleaming silver lining on the strange turn of last week's events, the 49ers must have been fired up for their 15th regular-season game ever against the Denver Broncos, who have also been struggling to find their footing in the future. Denver's new, high-price tag franchise quarterback Russell Wilson was again booed by his home crowd in last night's primetime game, as the Broncos' offense was, at times, utterly impotent. Both the 49ers and Broncos came into Week 3 with 1-1 records, but the momentum seemed to be with the recently rebooted Niners.
After an early 49er lead, the game ground to a halt, turning into a snoozy match with inspired defensive and special-teams play. Though they never really seemed to be in the game, Russell Wilson and the Broncos managed to come away with the 11-10 win, while the 49ers can only shrug their shoulders, and wonder if they can bring the past back into the present, while they wait for the future.
Early in the first quarter, San Francisco drove easily down Denver's mile-high home turf for a quick 7-o lead. Jeff Wilson Jr. had a 30-plus yard run deep into the Bronco's territory for a huge chunk of his 75 yards on the night, and Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, who caught the three-yard Jimmy G touchdown pass, both looked awesome. (They went on to have 73 and 39 receiving yards respectively.) Playing in his first game of the year, George Kittle had 4 catches for 28 yards, and more than a few blocks.
Early in last game last night, it looked like we might witness an old band getting back together to play their greatest hits. Maybe we'd even hear some new, sweet music.
Cue record-scratch sound bite.
The Broncos managed a 55-yard field goal early in the second quarter to make it 7-3, when the game turned into a defensive slug fest. Each team had four sacks, and each team seemed to stifle any offensive mojo from their opponent immediately. Denver's D felt a little inspired considering that the 49ers had gotten it going early, while San Francisco was exploiting a Bronco's offense that couldn't buy a first down, and that was again serenaded with boos after a string of three-and-outs.
The biggest highlights of the night came from the special teams. Both the 49ers' and Broncos' punters surgically placed their kicks against their opponent's goal line. On one Niners punt, Samuel Womack III jumped into the end zone and caught and threw the ball mid-air back out to the one yard line. The Broncos challenged unsuccessfully, saying the ball had hit the goal line, and we had the unique pleasure of scrutinizing a punt to death for several minutes.
The prolific punting on both ends led to an inglorious moment for the 49ers. Backed up against their own end zone on a 2nd and 10 in the third quarter, Jimmy G took the snap, backpedaled as two Broncos came after him, and stepped out of bounds not once, but twice, for the safety. Just trying to get rid of the ball, Garoppolo had thrown a pick-six after he's stepped out of bounds, so it was nullified by the safety. Still, those two points would be the Niners' eventual downfall.
"That was a tough situation I put him in," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was quoted as saying by 49ers Webzone. "That unblocked guy coming — I wish we would have had time for the big play and could have ditched it. But that was a tough situation I put him in."
On that same play, veteran left tackle Trent Williams suffered a high ankle sprain, leaving the game, and perhaps undoing a critical thread in the 49ers defense. (Williams is expected to miss at least a few games.) "He's the best football player in the NFL," George Kittle was quoted as saying by 49ers Webzone. "Nothing against the guy below him, but there's no one nearly as good as Trent Williams. Nothing against our two left tackles that came in after that, but when you lose a guy like him, it's tough."
So with the "unique score of 7-5," a few more sacks and a missed Denver field goal, the 49ers managed to get Robbie Gould into range for a successful 51 yard attempt. Score early in the fourth quarter: 10-5.
That's when Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos' offense found some rhythm and put together a drive, ultimately scoring their first red zone points of the year. The Broncos tried and missed a two-point attempt to make it 11-10 late in the fourth quarter.
The Niners had a good-looking drive going on the next possession when a Jimmy G throw up the middle to Deebo Samuel was tipped . . . floated . . . and picked off by the Broncos. It was one of three 49er turnovers on the night, and the nail in San Francisco's golden coffin.
"Altogether it was a sloppy day," Garoppolo was quoted as saying. "I think we had really one clean drive, got points off of it. Other than that, the defense kept us in that game. But just overall, just a sloppy day."
"I thought [Garoppolo] played real well in the first half," Kyle Shanahan said. "I thought he made some plays, hit the ones that were there and made some that weren't there. In the second half, I don't think anyone on offense did good, including myself. We didn't really get into a rhythm the whole time. Our defense did a hell of a job keeping us in there, but we weren't able to get it going."
The 1-2 49ers will play the 2-1 Los Angeles Rams next Sunday in Santa Clara. The Niners will be in Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers on October 9, then in Atlanta on October 16 to face the Falcons.
Top Image: Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images