Russell Wilson struggles, but has one clutch drive to lead Broncos over 49ers

It took a long time, but finally the Denver Broncos could feel good about their Russell Wilson trade.

Not great, but at least better than they would have felt without a late wave leading to a win.

The Broncos had five points in the fourth quarter and were looking at a 1-2 start to the season as Wilson had his best ride with Denver. It happened in his 12th quarter with Denver, which took longer than Broncos fans would have liked, but at least it happened.

Wilson made some plays with his legs, had some nice throws and Melvin Gordon scored with 4:10 to go to give the Broncos the lead. The 49ers then turned it around twice and the Broncos, led by defense and quite the offensive drive at the end of a bad night, had an ugly 11-10 win.

There’s a lot to solve with the Broncos’ attack. There are valid questions about head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s play and whether Wilson’s talent is fading at age 33. It was mostly a bad night. Imagine if it hadn’t ended in a win.

Russell Wilson is having a rough night

Before that fourth quarter drive, the Broncos attack was miserable. Denver worked for every yard. Wilson has never really struggled since coming to the NFL, but he got off to a bad start in the fourth quarter of his third game. Denver had nine three-and-outs, and that’s unforgivable, even if the 49ers were great on defense.

The drive that summed up the Broncos’ offensive difficulties and Wilson’s struggles came after Jimmy Garoppolo fell back from the end zone for a safety. The Broncos trailed 7-5.

The Broncos were conservative about that possession. Except for one long pass on that drive that resulted in a penalty, they were all short passes or runs. The Broncos reached the 49ers’ 41-yard line, ran twice, and then Wilson missed a wide open Jerry Jeudy trailing third. Brandon McManus missed a field goal to add to the Broncos’ woes.

It was telling. The Broncos didn’t seem to trust Wilson at the time. And if that was the case, Jeudy’s blatant miss didn’t help.

Story continues

In the fourth quarter, the Broncos faced quarter-and-inch in their own territory. Hackett decided to kick instead of giving his $245 million QB a chance to make a short pass, or even sneak a foot forward.

Then Wilson came to life. He made playing with his legs. He scrambled around to find Kendall Hinton downfield for 27 yards on a third-down play. On another third down, he found a lane and ran 40 feet for a first fall. Those were glimpses of the Wilson becoming a star with the Seattle Seahawks. A great back-shoulder pass to Courtland Sutton put the Broncos on the 5-yard line and Gordon scored two plays later.

Despite all of the Broncos’ troubles on offense, they led with just over four minutes left. Garoppolo would have a few more chances to answer.

Russell Wilson and the Broncos struggled on offense for most of their win over the 49ers.  (Photo by AARon Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Russell Wilson and the Broncos struggled on offense for most of their win over the 49ers. (Photo by AARon Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Jimmy Garoppolo had a chance to win

Garoppolo got the chance to direct a big drive. His safety, when he fell from the back of the end zone, was the difference in the Broncos’ 11-10 lead.

Garoppolo completed a big third and three on an out to Jauan Jennings who nearly got knocked out. Instead, it was a first down. Then Garoppolo threw an interception. He threw the traffic to Deebo Samuel, it popped up in the air and linebacker Jonas Griffith took it off with 2:06 to go. It was a bad decision by Garoppolo.

Garoppolo had a second shot after another Broncos three-and-out. Instead of letting Wilson try to catch up with third and 9 within the two-minute warning, the Broncos ran and kicked. The 49ers took over at their own 15-yard line with 1:42 over. After a sack, receding Jeff Wilson was stripped from behind on a catch, the Broncos recovered the fumble and that sealed the win.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan claimed the Broncos were offside for the game ending with Wilson’s fumble, but officials disagreed.

Neither team looked good on Sunday night. Garoppolo’s safety eventually became a big factor. The two 49ers turns late in the game sum up how both offenses played out. At least the Broncos left as the winner.

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