Denver Broncos defense stifles 49ers in exhibition opener
Denver Broncos effectively shut down San Francisco's offense Thursday night. It was the first preseason game for both the Denver Broncos and 49ers.
San Francisco — Denver linebacker Shaun Phillips has forced enough fumbles in his day that he doesn't mind the occasional cleanup job of just pouncing on the ball and safely recovering it.
He got a little more than that in the Broncos' 10-6 exhibition win against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, scooping up D.J. Harper's second-quarter fumble and returning it 9 yards for the game's lone touchdown.
The rest of the defense did its part making plays all over the field, too. The Super Bowl runner-up 49ers had issues in all phases.
Here are five reasons this game didn't live up to the hype of potential Super Bowl preview for what many consider the best two teams in the NFL — San Francisco and Denver are 1-2 in the AP Pro32 NFL power rankings.
1. THE QUARTERBACKS: Those fans at Candlestick Park who were still in the concession lines or garnishing their hot dogs might have missed the two star quarterbacks on either side — Broncos veteran Peyton Manning and third-year pro Colin Kaepernick — as they played all of one series each. Kaepernick completed all four of his passes, two to Anquan Boldin in his 49ers debut after being acquired in a trade from the Ravens. Manning was 2 for 4 for 13 yards.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had considered giving Kaepernick one more series, but liked what he saw from the first-team offense — however brief.
"The execution was good," Harbaugh said. "I felt like he had gotten enough reps."
2. BALL-HAWKING BRONCOS: Defense won this game, Denver's defense. Phillips' fumble return and touchdown highlighted a four-turnover night produced by the Broncos D. The unit held San Francisco to 288 yards — 68 more than Denver managed — and kept the 49ers out of the end zone.
"I was pleased with the plus-4 turnover ratio," coach John Fox said. "We didn't turn it over and we took it away four times. That's an area that we wanted to improve on. The balls we got our hands on on defense, we caught. And those were big factors in the game."
3. THE A.J. FACTOR: A.J. Jenkins followed a forgettable rookie season a year ago with a forgettable preseason debut.
When asked about Jenkins, Harbaugh offered only: "Could have been better. We have work to do in areas."
Jenkins faces high expectations after the first-round pick went without a catch in his highly scrutinized rookie year. The 49ers are depending on him to produce while top 2012 wideout Michael Crabtree spends much of the season recovering from surgery on his torn Achilles' tendon, and Mario Manningham works back from knee surgery.
Only two plays after Phillips scored midway through the second quarter, Jenkins caught an 11-yard pass from Scott Tolzien and fumbled. Denver's Rahim Moore recovered.
"I just lost it," Jenkins said. "Right now, I've got to look at the film and see what I've got to work on. I'm sure nobody feels it was their best game."
A pass by Colt McCoy intended for Jenkins late in the first half was well overthrown and strong safety Mike Adams easily grabbed the interception against his former team.
4. DAWSON'S LEG: New 49ers kicker Phil Dawson made field goals of 32 and 38 yards, but missed wide left on the final play before halftime with the flags whipping on a cool summer evening by the bay. It will be a work in progress getting comfortable in Candlestick Park's unpredictable winds.
"Encouraging," Harbaugh said. "Real good pregame."
5. WELCOME WELKER: Peyton Manning's new wideout, Wes Welker, was targeted just once in Denver's opening drive — and then he called it a day in a short Broncos debut. No complaints, though, or worries.
"I have had a lot of preseasons where I had no catches going into the year," he said. "It's just a matter of getting our execution down."