LIVE Game Blog: 49ers vs. Broncos
(1:57) There goes Frank Gore, limbering up with a little stutter-step juke without the ball during warm-ups. It's a big day for Gore, who can set a new 49ers single-season rushing record by gaining 29 yards against a Denver defense that's tough against the run, ranked 11th in the NFL entering the day in that department. Gore also needs five yards rushing or receiving to become the 53rd player in league history to accumulate 2,000 yards from scrimmage. And, last but not least, Gore also has a NFC rushing title to go after. Gore entered the season's final week with a 114-yard lead over Tiki Barber of the New York Giants, but Barber exploded for a 234-yard rushing outburst on Saturday in a win over the Washington Redskins. So that means Gore has his work cut out for him today, needing 121 yards on the ground to get past Barber for a NFC title some might have thought he already had well in hand entering the final weekend of the season … (2:09) It's official now. The Chiefs beat the Jaguars 35-30 in a seesaw game in Kansas City, which puts the heat on the Broncos, who can't back into the playoffs now. Kansas City's win means Denver must beat the 49ers to capture the AFC's final wild-card berth … (2:13) The Broncos win the toss. The 49ers will start on defense today … (2:18) Sheez! The Broncos start the game with a 29-yard pass from rookie quarterback Jay Cutler to rookie tight end Tony Scheffler on the first play from scrimmage. Then Cutler goes to veteran receiver Rod Smith for a 15-yard gain on the next play. But the San Francisco defense finally shows up after that, as Manny Lawson and Brandon Moore rock Tatum Bell on the next two plays, and Denver opts to punt from the San Francisco 35 after Cutler throws incomplete on third down … (2:23) The 49ers start their first offensive drive inside their own 2-yard line, and after two runs by Gore net only three yards, San Francisco doesn't even bother to attempt a pass on third down, instead handing off to Gore on a sweep that nets only two yards. It's a weak three-and-out by the SF offense to start things out … (2:33) The defense steps up again and forces a three-and-out by Denver, and the 49ers get their initial first down of the day when there's a Taylor Jacobs sighting on third-and-7. Quarterback Alex Smith finds Jacobs on the left sideline for a 10-yard gain, only Jacobs' third catch of the season. After Vernon Davis is stopped for a four-yard loss on first down, the drive quickly bogs down, and the 49ers try some ill-advised trickery on fourth-and-2. Up back Michael Robinson takes a direct snap and attempts a shovel pass to Maurice Hicks, but a Bronco gets in the way and the 49ers flub the play, which ends in an incomplete pass that sets up the Broncos with a first down at the San Francisco 40 … (2:38) Boy, the 49ers sure are trying to help out the Broncos. Cutler throws incomplete on first down, but safety Mark Roman is called for an obvious unnecessary roughness penalty when he drills Scheffler helmet-to-helmet on the play. Stupid. Two plays later, Roman is flagged for interference, but the Broncos take the roughing-the-passer penalty on blitzing safety Keith Lewis instead, though it looked like a weak call on Lewis. Just like that, the Broncos have a first down at the San Francisco 11, which they soon turn into a first-and-goal from the 1. The Broncos look like they're going in here… (2:43) But they're not! Moore sells out on first down, leaping over pulling left guard Ben Hamilton to drill Mike Bell for no gain. Then Cutler fumbles the snap on second down before falling on it. On third down, Ulbrich charges into the backfield and dumps Bell for a three-yard loss. The Broncos are back at the 4 now, and they settle for a 22-yard Jason Elam field goal. Considering the Broncos had first-and-goal from the 1, that's a victory for the San Francisco defense … (2:50) Hicks has a nice 24-yard return of a short kickoff to set up the 49ers at their 34, and the first quarter ends with Gore going off he left side for five yards on second down. It's Denver 3, San Francisco 0 on the scoreboard … (3:02) Anthony Adams absolutely rocks Cutler for a sack, and the rookie gets up slowly before being helped off the field. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Shawntae Spencer is flagged for illegal contact down the field, so the Broncos get a first down out of the play instead of a 10-yard loss. Jake Plummer comes in for Cutler, and that ends up looking pretty good for San Francisco after Mike Bell's 46-yard run gives Denver a first-and-goal at the 3. Lawson chases down Bell on the play, and as it turns out, that saves a touchdown. Plummer is sacked for a three-yard loss on first down, throws incomplete on second down, then is stopped after a three-yard scramble on third down. The Broncos have to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Elam, and that's another victory for the San Francisco defense … (3:15) It's another three-and-out for the 49ers - their third in four offensive possessions so far - but the SF defense comes up big three plays later when Walt Harris picks off Plummer's deep throw and makes a nifty 42-yard return. The 49ers are in business at the Denver 39, and it looks like their finally gaining some momentum … (3:25) Some momentum. Smith is sacked for a three-yard loss on first down and a seven-yard loss on third down as right tackle Kwame Harris is steamrolled backward into Smith's face. The 49ers have to punt yet again, but they get the ball right back after a three-and-out by the Broncos … (3:28) And just like that, a killer blow. On third-and-7, the Niners get their biggest play so far, a short dump-off pass from Smith that Gore turns into a 26-yard gain into Denver territory. But on the very next play, Smith checks off to Gore again, and the pass hits Gore in the numbers. But Gore turns up field without the ball, it bounces off his chest … and falls into the waiting arms of cornerback Champ Bailey on the right sideline. Bailey weaves down the field with only Smith in front of him, and he cuts back inside the San Francisco 15 to complete a 70-yard touchdown return of the interception. Talk about a quick turnaround! Instead of going in for a score to get them back in the game, the 49ers now trail 13-0, and that change of events will be tough for the 49ers to shake off … (3:34) The 49ers aren't going to lay down, however. After another hard-nosed kickoff return by Hicks, Gore bursts over right tackle for a 24-yard gain on first down that gives him the franchise rushing record, breaking the previous standard of 1,570 yards set by Garrison Hearst in 1998 … (3:46) Smith connects on some short passes and Gore breaks a couple of nifty 9-yard runs to give the 49ers a first down at the Denver 12. But that's where things go awry. Davis is called for a false start on first down, pushing the Niners back. On the next play, Smith scrambles out of the pocket, only to fumble the ball backwards as he's brought down. The ball lays there, and the Broncos can pick it up and take it back for another touchdown. But Kenard Lang can't get the handle, and the ball goes out of bounds. It's a big break for the 49ers, who immediately send Joe Nedney out on the field to attempt a 46-yard field goal on second down. Nedney drills it, and that makes it a 13-3 game at halftime. It could be worse, but it also could be much better for the bumbling 49ers, especially with their defense playing well. … (3:59) At halftime, the Broncos hold only a 140-102 advantage in total yards. Bailey's interception return clearly is the difference in the game as mistakes continue to haunt the 49ers. In his pursuit of records, Gore had a very nice first half, rushing 11 times for 66 yards and catching that 26-yard pass. He enters the second half with a franchise-record 1,608 yards rushing, and he also has 2,087 total yards from scrimmage, which leaves him just 18 yards short of Hearst's franchise record, also set in 1998 … (4:12) What a drive by the 49ers to open the second half!! You can call it the Moran Norris drive if you like, though Gore and Smith both made a lot of short plays to keep the chains moving on a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown push to begin the second half. Norris, the power-blocking fullback who had touched the ball only four times all season, converted a key third-and-1 at the Denver 43 by rumbling four yards with his first carry of the season. Then, on third-and-3, Smith stood strong with blitzing Denver defenders in his face and zipped a pass to Norris in the right flat. Norris shook off Denver linebacker Nate Webster after making the catch, then charged down the right sideline, running through Lang's tackle attempt at the goal line to complete a 32-yard touchdown play. The Niners finally took it to the Denver defense on that drive, and they're right back in the game, now trailing 13-10 … (4:20) All of a sudden, the 49ers are taking over this game. After Denver gets the ball back, the Broncos are pushed back into a third-and-17 situation by a holding call. Cutler - now back in the game in place of Plummer to start the second half - drops back to pass, has to immediately avoid Moore blitzing up the middle, then flips a pass toward the left sideline intended for tight end Stephen Alexander, who had been called for the hold on the previous play. But Harris is right there to make the play, and he easily steps in front of Alexander and returns into 28 yards for the touchdown. That's huge!! It's also 17 unanswered points from the 49ers, and San Francisco's first lead of the day at 17-13 with 6:25 to play in the third quarter … (4:21) That's the fifth touchdown return of Harris' career, his second interception of the day, and his career-high eighth of the season - which moves into sole possession of NFC lead, and only behind Bailey among the NFL leaders. And you're telling me this guy can't start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl, and can't even get more than first-alternate Pro Bowl recognition for his wonderful 11th NFL season? Sheez … (4:34) An immediate slip-up after Harris' big play for the 49ers, who allow Quincy Morgan to return the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to midfield. The Broncos move quickly to a first-and-goal from the 4, but once again the San Francisco defense stiffens. Roman dumps Cutler for a nine-yard sack on second down, and Denver ultimately has to settle for another gimme 22-yard field goal by Elam. So the 49ers hold the lead at 17-16, and Denver, a bit confused on offense, burns its final timeouts on the drive with 1:45 still remaining in the third quarter … (4:40) Facing third-and-4 on their next drive, the 49ers convert with Jacobs making a nice grab at the yard-marker for the first down. And that's how the third quarter ends - a very good third quarter for the 49ers - with San Francisco ahead 17-16 and sitting with a first down at its own 42-yard line. One quarter of football to go in this up-and-down season, folks. The 49ers enter those final 15 minutes on the up … (4:45) After Gore begins the fourth quarter with a seven-yard burst, Smith checks off a receiver, makes a nice pump fake to the left, then fires a 35-yard strike to Arnaz Battle that takes the 49ers to the Denver 16. The drive stalls there as Smith is forced from the pocket and has to throw it away on third-and-5, but Nedney comes in to drill a 29-yard field goal that puts the San Francisco lead back up to four at 20-16. With the way Denver is moving the ball against a resurgent SF defense, those four points are looking pretty big right now with 12 minutes to play …. (4:56) Another huge play by the San Francisco defense, but give coach Mike Nolan all the credit for this one. On second down from the Denver 28, Tatum Bell takes a pass from Cutler and turns it into a 15-yard gain. It looks like a Denver first down, but before the Broncos can run another play, Nolan throws the red challenge flag. Replays show clearly that Spencer and Moore ripped the ball away from Bell before he hits the ground, and at the end of the play, Harris ended up picking the ball. After looking at replays, the officials give the ball to the 49ers! Now San Francisco has a chance to deliver a death blow to the Broncos … (5:06) But on another challenge a few minutes later, the 49ers get screwed. Smith connects with Jacobs for a first down on third-and-7 but the ball comes loose as Jacobs hit's the ground, and the Broncos pick it up when there is no whistle from the officials, who must have their whistles up their rears about now. It's ruled a fumble on the field, but Nolan immediately throws the red flag again. Replays show clearly that Taylor caught the ball and his knee hit the ground before the ball comes loose. But, after a long delay, the officials rule it an incompletion! That's an incredibly bad call, but at least the Broncos don't get the fumble, and they have to start their next drive at their own 6 after Andy Lee's punt from the San Francisco 40 … (5:10) San Francisco's defense is taking over this game. The 49ers are filling the passing lanes and pressuring Cutler into quick releases before his receivers can get open. The Broncos go three-and-out and, even though rookie Brandon Williams fumbles the return, get the ball back at the San Francisco 41 with another prime opportunity to put points on the board … (5:19) And this time, the 49ers do. Gore breaks a 12-yard run on first down to the 29, but the drive ends up stalling after a false start by Adam Snyder, who is having a rough day. Nolan sends out Nedney to attempt a 51-yard field goal, but the 49ers get a break when Denver's Ebenezer Ekuban gets flagged five yards for delay of game for trying to entice movement on the San Francisco line. Nedney comes in and drills the ensuing 46-yard attempt to give the 49ers a touchdown cushion at 23-16 with 6:18 to play … (5:27) The SF defense immediately forced Denver into a third-and-12 at its own 18, but Mike Bell breaks loose for a 24-yard gain on a screen pass. Cutler then connects with rookie Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard gain on second-and-9 that takes Denver to the San Francisco 16 at the two-minute warning … (5:30) But the 49ers can't hold. Cutler hits Bell for seven yards, then fires a nine-yard strike to Scheffler over the middle for a touchdown on the next play. Elam adds the extra point, and it's a 23-23 game with 1:30 remaining. The 49ers, with one timeout, will get one final shot to pull out the victory in regulation … (5:35) Hicks returns the kickoff out to the 34, but after a five-yard gain on first down by Gore, Smith is harassed and almost gets picked off. The 49ers play it safe with a Gore run for three yards on third-and-5, then punt it away. Lee sends his punt into the end zone, and with one second remaining, the Broncos take a knee from their 20. We're headed for overtime, folks … (5:37) The 49ers call heads, and the coin comes down tails. Denver wins the toss and will get the football first … (5:42) Huge stop by the 49ers to begin overtime! The Broncos pick up a quick first down, and then are driving for another near midfield after an eight-yard gain by Mike Bell on first down. But Bell is stuffed for a one-yard gain on second down by Bryant Young, who is shaken up by the helmet-to-helmet contact and comes off the field. On third-and-1, Lewis blitzes from the left side and dumps Bell in the backfield for a three-yard loss! The Broncos have to punt … (5:50) The 49ers start at their own 12, but they immediately make headway. The 49ers churn out three first downs to take the ball to midfield, and in the process, Gore goes over 120 yards rushing and wins the NFC rushing title. Good for Frankster! That kid deserves every bit it of it, and Barber made him work for it. The 49ers take it down to a third-and-4 at the Denver 44, but Smith crosses signals with receiver Bryan Gilmore and overthrows him badly. The 49ers aren't going to try any 61-yard field goal, even in this thin air, and Lee punts it back to the Broncos … (5:56) The Niners come up big on defense again. Denver gets one first down, but that's it. Cutler throws incomplete on second and third down, and the Broncos have to punt from their own 19. It's a 54-yard boomer by Paul Ernster, but Williams circles under it and makes a 12-yard return to the San Francisco 39, from where the 49ers will try get a few first downs and set up Nedney to end this thing … (6:02) A great call by Norv Turner on first down. Gilmore takes a reverse and the Broncos aren't ready for it. With Smith throwing a block on the left side, Gilmore turns on the jets for a 20-yard gain into Denver territory. But now it's third-and-8, and the 49ers need more yardage to get Nedney in position. Smith hits Gilmore with a 14-yard strike!! It's first down at the Denver 25, and Gore goes for four yards on first down and three on second. Nedney's got a straight-shot 36-yarder to win the game, and this guy doesn't miss kicks like this … (6:03) And he doesn't miss! The ball hooks on Nedney at the end of his kick, but not before it goes inside the right upright to end the game! How about that! The 49ers win 26-23, knock the mighty Denver Broncos out of the playoffs, and finish with a very respectable 7-9 season in Year 2 of the Mike Nolan reclamation project. The 49ers, 10-point underdogs, end the year with their biggest upset of the season. After this kind of finish, it's already making it difficult to wait for next season! … Check back with www.sfillustrated throughout the upcoming week as we bring you season wrap-up coverage of the 49ers, and then cover the team on a daily basis throughout the 2007 offseason. -- CM
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