What a defensive battle that was on Sunday Night Football. The San Francisco 49ers got that early touchdown midway through the first quarter, then neither team would score another touchdown until the Denver Broncos did it late in the fourth quarter to inch past them for an 11-10 lead that would ultimately be the final.
While most fans today love the offensive-style shootouts, nothing quite hits for me like one of these types of defensive slugfests. Of course, my mood would have been spoiled had the 49ers won instead, but they didn’t so I can enjoy this fully. The confidence this defense had to have gained from such dominance cannot be understated. The 49ers were a game away from the Super Bowl last season and Kyle Shanahan is no slouch when it comes to offensive play calling. The Denver defensive is legit.
But I think we’ll start out these game balls with a nod to the real MVP of this game. The punter.
What a game for the punter. I don’t think I’ve ever even considered a game ball for a punter before, but Waitman’s punting was literally the difference in the game. He punted TEN TIMES for a net 43.6 average, with six of his punts pinning the 49ers inside the 20 yard line with zero touchdowns. You literally can’t do any better than Waitman did in this game. Have a game ball, sir! - Tim Lynch
Final tally for Corliss Waitman: 10 punts with a 43.6-yard net average, six pinned inside the 20 and no touchbacks.— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) September 26, 2022
The stat sheet won’t scream his name, but Bradley Chubb played a solid game for the Broncos. Disruptive on pass plays, and quick to the QB, Chubb had Jimmy Garoppolo in his sights all night. He recorded just one sack, but it was a big one. On first down with 1:42 left, Jimmy G. dropped back to pass. Chubb set the tone for the rest of that short drive by getting his lone sack. It was just one play, but it was massive in the moment. - Adam Malnati
Even just 3 games into the Broncos era of his career, you could honestly say that this wasn’t Russell Wilson’s best game in orange & blue. It’s the first game of the season where Wilson didn’t throw a TD, the first where he threw for under 200 yards, and it featured the most 3-and-outs of his entire NFL career. So why is he getting my game ball? Because when the chips were down and it really counted, Russell Wilson stepped up. And that’s what you need in a franchise QB.
With 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter on a day where the Broncos’ offense was facing one of the league’s best defenses- and was one errant Jimmy Garoppolo step away from trailing its own defense by at least 3 points- Wilson came alive and took over the game. He led the Broncos’ offense 80 yards in 12 methodical plays, racking up a full third of his passing yards for the day and a much-needed 12 yard run on the way to the Melvin Gordon touchdown that sealed the deal. Last year, we lose this game. For most of the last 5 years or so, we lose this game. This year, we had Russell Wilson. And we won this game. - Taylor Kothe
Evero just matched wits with one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and won. What a remarkable game plan put forth by the Broncos defensive coordinator. This Denver defense is legit, too. In three games, this unit has given up 36 points. On Sunday night, the Broncos were unreal defensively. They held San Francisco to 1-for-10 on third down. Forced three turnovers. Had four sacks. And Denver held one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL to 88 yards on the ground. - Ian St. Clair
This defense is on another level pic.twitter.com/zelTG6qnD2— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 26, 2022
I wanted to give my game ball to the entire defense, but that’s not allowed, so I went with Randy Gregory. Again this week, Gregory led a pass rush that is reminding me of the 2015 Broncos. Gregory finished the game with three tackles (all solo), two QB hits, one TFL and one sack. It seemed like he had seven or eight pressures in the game. The defense finished the game with four sacks, six QB hits and and probably 15-20 pressures on 33 drop-backs. - Joe Mahoney
In another unwatchable offensive display, the defense stepped up to secure the second straight win for the Broncos. However, the 49ers were gifted a chance to take the lead and the game with less than 2 minutes remaining following the 9th (!) three and out by the Broncos. A sack by Bradley Chubb pinned the Niners deep, but it was Locke’s forced fumble on the next play that would seal the win for Denver. - Nick Burch
I mean, I’d personally toss him a game ball but it would definitely be incomplete. Textbook definition of taking away half the field. - Mike DeCicco
Like Joe said, the entire defense deserves a game ball - which is exactly what Coach Hackett did when handing them out last night. So I’ll give a special shoutout to Griffith for such a heads up INT late in the fourth quarter. Without that turnover, the 49ers drive had great potential for a go-ahead score that could have sealed a win for the away team. Kareem Jackson tipped the pass and Griffith didn’t squander an opportunity. I tell ya, I had flashbacks of John Mobley tipping Brett Favre’s pass to ensure a Broncos Super Bowl victory. I realize that’s a different level, but this defense is elite and it’s exciting to watch especially under a first-time play caller in Ejiro Evero. - Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann
On a night when the Broncos defense was forced to carry the offense, Josey Jewell handled much of the heavy lifting. After not seeing game action for over a year, Jewell recorded nine tackles, two QB hits, two tackles for loss, one sack and a fumble recovery. It’s easy to underrate Jewell as he lacks the athleticism to cover playmakers on the offense and run sideline to sideline, but he was filling gaps and flying through holes all night to stop the run and lay hits on Jimmy Garoppolo. Jewell is an anchor and a difference maker for this defense and deserves huge kudos for his performance on Sunday night. - Chad Workman