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Late score lifts Broncos to another win, but defense carries the day

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A late drive with a winning touchdown put the Broncos ahead of the 49ers at the end of the fourth quarter, but it was the Broncos defense - again - that was the big story in the game.

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Another late fourth-quarter touchdown by another backup saved the game once again for the Broncos as they came up on the winning end, 19-12, against the 49ers Saturday at Mile High.

And while the Broncos offense is still figuring out its rhythm, the defense is rocking and rolling, reminding NFL opponents it's going to be a tough fight to get points - not to mention yards - against this team.

As my favorite cliché-spewing defensive end DeMarcus Ware said after the game, "Actually, when you sort of think about it, defenses win championships."

Not very original perhaps, but not untrue either.

And if the Broncos offense struggles to put insanely high numbers on the scoreboard, Ware isn't worried that this defense cannot win the game.

"That's what we're trying to do, is be consistent and not just playing six games like we did last year well," No. 94 said. "We're trying to play well throughout the whole season because that's what it's going to take."

But don't even think for a minute Ware is worried about the Broncos offense (even if you are).

"I'd say we just have to stay consistent," he reiterated. "The offense is going to do what they need to do and they're going to put more points on the board during the season, but we have to do what we do. We have to keep the other offenses scoring low points."

Ware and the rest of his defensive compadrés did just that on Saturday, holding the Bay Area team they practiced against all week to just four field goals and keeping the wily Colin Kaepernick to just 13 yards passing and 53 yards rushing (most of which came on just two long scampers in the second quarter).

Ware was also responsible for one of two takedowns on the starting quarterback, which resulted in a safety thanks to the eight-time Pro Bowler's firmly planted body that refused to let Kaepernick loose.

Brandon Marshall noted that the defense wasn't happy with allowing Kap to get a couple of long runs in the second quarter, but they intend to improve upon that.

"We let Kaepernick get 50 yards rushing and that's something we want to limit during the season with those rushing quarterbacks and the Russell Wilsons of the world," said Marshall, who was playing in his second preseason game of the season since spending most of the offseason doing rehab on his foot. "Overall, I think we've done a hell of a job. We just have to work on the little things."

Coach Gary Kubiak likes the consistency of the defense and particularly enjoyed the fact that the Broncos D was on the field less than 10 minutes the entire first half.

The biggest thing offensively is we don't have a lot to show for some of the good things that are going on. Now there needs to be a sense of urgency. We've got a couple weeks to get things cleaned up.  -Gary Kubiak, head coach

"We've been very consistent there. We're deep there," Kubiak said.

But the head coach was not as thrilled with his offense's performance - which showed potential just not enough execution in the end zone.

"The biggest thing offensively is we don't have a lot to show for some of the good things that are going on," Kubiak said, noting a third-down conversion rate more than 50 percent and keeping offense on the field two-thirds of the first half. "A lot of things to be encouraged about, but yet a sense of urgency to fix the things that aren't right."

No doubt red zone efficiency is among the most urgent. In 11 drives during the game, the Broncos controlled the clock and drove the ball downfield but made it to the red zone just four times, resulting in two field goals, one touchdown and one interception in the end zone.

"On certain plays they got us on a couple of blitzes that put us in long third down situations, and they obviously did a good job in the red zone of stopping us," said Peyton Manning, who threw for 124 yards in his two quarters in the game, completing mostly only short passes to his receivers. Some key drops in the end zone by Demaryius Thomas and Cody Latimer didn't help Manning's statistics.

But neither did 49ers' NaVorro Bowman, who was responsible for two of the three sacks on Manning and brought constant pressure, proving the linebacker is coming back quite nicely after sitting out with an injury last season.

"I thought Bowman made some pretty good blitzes," Manning said. "You've got to give them credit on those plays."

Inside the five on the final drive of the second quarter, No. 18 was hoping to connect with Latimer, but the two couldn't make it happen as the 49ers blitzed seven guys to the Broncos' five. Latimer missed the opportunity in the end zone, setting up Brandon McManus' second field goal of the night.

"[The 49ers] brought the house. They brought everybody," Manning said, adding that he realized later Owen Daniels wasn't covered as a result. "I wish I would have looked there, but I was kind of keyed in on going to Cody, so you know gave him a chance to make a play. You'd like to be able to finish with a touchdown, but we just didn't do it on that play."

Noting that all three of Manning's sacks came while the QB was under center, Kubiak put some of that on the play calling.

"You get caught under center on a couple of tough blitzes, but that's on us as coaches, starting with me to make sure we're out of that situation or get a chance to get out of that situation," Kubiak said. "I think [Manning's] fine. I feel pretty confident from a coaching standpoint we can go fix those things."

We wanted more points than we scored. People are used to seeing a lot more points on this offense, but I don't think there's need to hit the panic button. -Owen Daniels, tight end

Since Manning is unlikely to play in the final preseason game this Thursday, the quarterback said there is definitely a lot of work to be done between now and opening day against the Ravens, but he thought last night's game was a good extension of the chemistry building that has been going on in practice and throughout the preseason.

"I had good work tonight, saw some different situations," Manning said, noting the practices against the 49ers "paid off" as well. "We can use these next two weeks to improve and get ready, and certainly we've got a tough test coming with Baltimore."

C.J. Anderson, who had 13 carries for 49 yards, called the unfinished drives "super frustrating," and promised the first-team offense would be finishing drives come Week 1.

"We just need to score," said the running back, pointing out that there was improvement over last week's four punts to finish four drives. "Today we had possessions and are moving the ball but had a turnover here, penalty there. We're just killing ourselves. It's not like the defense is beating us. It's something we need to work on."

Daniels agreed the offense should feel good about moving/keeping the ball much better this week and reminded fans there is not cause for concern - it's preseason, there's time to fix the kinks.

"We wanted more points than we scored," said the tight end. "People are used to seeing a lot more points on this offense, but I don't think there's need to hit the panic button. We're getting yards, and we had a lot better day in third down situations."

While Brock Osweiler's second-half numbers were similar to Manning's at 15/20 passes for 104 yards, the backup quarterback was also able to add a touchdown drive to his stats, thanks to a one-yard run by Juwan Thompson who got both the go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion to put the Broncos ahead with just under two minutes.

"Any time offensively you can get into the end zone, it's big," said Osweiler. "To finish a drive in the end zone, that's our goal every time."

And it's a goal the Broncos offense is hoping to make a more regular occurrence come Sept. 13 against the Ravens. But in the meantime, there's nothing wrong with celebrating the victory.

"I just couldn't be more happy with this group to go out there tonight and find a way to get the win," said Osweiler, who is already looking forward to his start on Thursday for the last preseason matchup. "Heck yeah, I was excited. It's a big deal to get the win at home."