DENVER, Colo. — The Broncos are back on top.
The San Francisco 49ers visited Denver for a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Broncos. Denver needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win a grimy 11-10 game. The win moves the Broncos into a tie with the Kansas City Chiefs atop the AFC West with a 2-1 record.
Here’s how the Broncos graded out…
QB Russell Wilson – C-
When push came to shove, Russell Wilson was able to guide his team to a game-winning touchdown. But almost everything up to that point was ugly.
He missed on a back-shoulder ball to Courtland Sutton, and on third-down throws to Albert Okwuegbunam and Jerry Jeudy that should have been completed. He was able to run for a first down to extend the game-winning drive, but came up short on a third-down run on the previous drive. He was tough hanging in the pocket but also gave up a sack when the pocket collapsed behind him and he had plenty of space to roll out. He was too quick to hit his checkdowns, despite having linebackers ready to make the tackle almost every time.
On the final drive, though, Wilson hit clutch throws, like a long completion to Kendall Hinton on a 3rd & 10 scramble drill, and a 19-yard back-shoulder pass to Courtland Sutton to pull within five yards of the end zone.
He climbs out of the D range and into the Cs because he saved the game by diving on the Melvin Gordon fumble right in front of the end zone. Broncos fans know not to take that for granted.
Wilson finished the game with 20 completions on 33 pass attempts for 184 yards. He also ran the ball three times for 17 yards.
RB Javonte Williams – C
The only real mistakes for Williams were a couple of missed reads with the ball in his hands. Both times, he seemed to have more space if he’d cut back to the other side. But Nick Bosa was being blocked one-on-one on both of those plays, so maybe he didn’t want to risk the Pro Bowler separating and making the tackle.
The bigger problem for Williams was that he struggled to break tackles. That’s rare for him. He caught the ball near the line of scrimmage a few times but never made somebody miss. The only notable broken tackle came near his own end zone and gave his offense some room to breathe.
Williams finished with 58 yards on 15 carries with three catches for two yards.
RB Melvin Gordon – D-
Two fumbles. That can’t happen. Luckily, the Broncos recovered both.
Gordon ran the ball 12 times for 26 yards. He caught five passes for 29 more.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam – D-
For the second-consecutive week, Albert Okquegbunam did next to nothing in the passing game. His one catch was worth 12 yards. In his defense, he was open at the sticks on a third down but Russell Wilson spiked the ball at his feet.
The bigger issue was that Okwuegbunam struggled as a blocker again. He was blown by on a sack in the final minutes of the first half. He was supposed to block and release but barely got a hand on the rusher.
He was at least partially responsible for the Nick Bosa trip sack, too. His role was to chip Bosa and let him go inside him so that Wilson had leverage to roll out of the pocket behind him, but Okwuegbunam barely touched Bosa and the defensive end was able to turn the corner quickly and get a foot on Wilson. Any resistance at all would’ve stopped that sack.
Those were the only two snaps in which Okwuegbunam was a blocker.
WR Courtland Sutton – A-
The fifth-year receiver has become Russell Wilson’s favorite target, and the competition isn’t close at all.
Sutton followed up a great performance last week with another very good game on Sunday. He caught eight of his 10 targets for 97 yards.
The first incompletion was on the first drive of the game. Sutton had single coverage on the boundary. He and Wilson telegraphed to the whole stadium that he was the target with a series of hand signals. They settled on a back-shoulder ball but Wilson left the ball too far behind him. The point of this is to say: if Sutton has single coverage, the Broncos are going to try to get him the ball and they don’t care who knows it.
The other incompletion was a drop on a shallow post. The drop cost the Broncos at least three points. It’s why Sutton’s grade isn’t higher. The lack of touchdowns doesn’t help either.
There were curls. There were back-shoulder passes. There was a massive catch on a crosser that gave the Broncos their first first down of the game. Sutton played some great ball.
WR Jerry Jeudy – D+
It was a rough night for the third-year wide receiver, as he returned from a rib injury. He caught two passes for 17 yards.
Jeudy couldn’t bring in a contested 3rd & 5 catch that was a little behind him at the end of the first quarter. He couldn’t box out a defender on 2nd & 10 hitch in the second quarter. He also had a false start penalty and drew a third-down holding call.
WR KJ Hamler – D+
The third-year receiver returned after sitting out last week. He ran 11 routes but didn’t receive a single target.
WR Kendall Hinton – C+
Hinton ran 26 routes but was only targeted once. It was a 27-yard, third-down scramble drill on the Broncos’ game-winning drive. Hinton also made a little noise as a blocker, including on when he was the lead blocker between the tackles on one play.
LT Garett Bolles – D+
The veteran tackle gave up a sack on the first play of the second quarter on a rush around the edge. He wasn’t beat quickly but he was still responsible. He also gave up a sack on the first play after Jimmy Garoppolo’s fumble. Once again, it was far from an egregious error, but he lost his ground and the defender was able to drag Russell Wilson down while Bolles was engaged.
Bolles was called for a holding on a would-be sack. He probably could’ve been called for a holding on the previous play as well.
He also gave up a run stuff just before the Broncos missed their 53-yard field goal attempt. Who knows if the a few more yards of field position would’ve made the difference?
LG Dalton Risner – C-
Risner got beat clean a couple of times in the second quarter, including on a stunt that gave rookie pass rusher Drake Jackson the first sack of his career. A pressure allowed on a third-down incompletion was bailed out by defensive holding.
C Lloyd Cushenberry – C-
Cushenberry whiffed on a pin while Dalton Risner pulled around him. He was beaten inside on a couple of other runs. Solid pass protection keeps him out of the D range.
RG Graham Glasgow – C
The veteran guard will likely lose his starting job next week when Quinn Meinerz probably returns to the lineup from an injury, but he gave a solid effort on Sunday.
Glasgow was mostly solid as a run blocker, including when he opened a hole for a 16-yard run. He also covered for Cam Fleming when Nick Bosa cooked him on a spin move.
Glasgow also made a couple of mistakes. He couldn’t get to a blitz that ended a short run. He gave up a pair of pressures.
RT Cam Fleming – D+
The 30-year-old tackle drew one of the toughest assignments of the night: blocking Nick Bosa. Once again, Fleming was much better in the run game than he was in the passing game.
Bosa beat Fleming on a pure speed rush that resulted in a holding penalty. He also beat Fleming on a nasty spin move. He gave up four pressures in the game.
DL DJ Jones – A-
For the third-consecutive game, DJ Jones consistently provided penetration. The only stat he recorded was a batted ball to end the first drive, but he flowed consistently and helped to bottle up the running game.
DL Dre’Mont Jones – C+
The younger Jones was solid but didn’t provide much flash. Like DJ Jones, he flowed well for the most part and helped to collapse some running lanes and cutback lanes. He provided a third-down pressure in the fourth quarter and he beat his blocker, drawing Kyle Juszczyk to help out, which collapsed a run near the goal line.
Jones was also called for a holding on the first play of the second half.
DL Mike Purcell – A
The veteran defensive lineman got revenge on his former team on Sunday. The nose tackle is typically clogging up the middle of the field but he was explosive getting into the backfield.
Purcell stuffed a run deep in San Francisco territory after blowing by the offensive lineman. On the next snap, he got himself immediately into the backfield and helped chase Jimmy Garoppolo out of the back of the end zone. He was credited with the sack.
He finished with five solo tackles, the safety sack and a tackle for loss when he chased a sweep all the way to the sideline. The day could have been better, too.
Purcell mauled an offensive lineman and made a tackle for loss on the first play of the second half but the play was negated by a penalty. On the next snap, Purcell should have drawn a holding penalty.
DL DeShawn Williams – B
The veteran lineman was a key piece in slowing down the 49ers’ running game. He stuffed the first play of the game for a one-yard gain. He had another stuff deep in San Francisco territory near the end of the half.
OLB Bradley Chubb – A-
Bradley Chubb was a monster. He beat up on Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers’ right tackle. He got around the edge to force Jimmy Garoppolo to step up into a sack from Josey Jewell. He consistently hustled on the backside of runs and eliminated cutback lanes. He set the edge well and was able to force an incompletion on a screen on the second-to-last drive because the quarterback had to lob the ball over him.
Chubb’s big play was a sack that knocked the 49ers back to their own 3-yard line on the first play of their final drive. The low point was when Chubb was beaten for a toe-tap catch by fullback Kyle Juszczyk down the field. Chubb would’ve had a pick-six if Garoppolo hadn’t stepped out of bounds for the safety.
Chubb finished with two tackles, the sack and a tackle for loss, and one other quarterback hit.
OLB Randy Gregory – A
In an outstanding defensive performance from the Broncos, Randy Gregory may have been the best defender.
Gregory’s lone sack came against Trent Williams’ replacement at right tackle. It knocked the 49ers out of field goal range. Gregory nearly had another sack when he got a hand on Jimmy Garoppolo at the goal line and just about knocked the ball out of his hand. Gregory’s six pressures were double what any other Broncos produced. One of those pressures was on a critical third down in the fourth quarter. He was also right behind Purcell on the safety.
Gregory was outstanding in the run game, setting the edge easily and dragging down the backs. He had one tackle for loss.
OLB Baron Browning – C+
The second-year linebacker worked as the Broncos’ third edge piece again this week and got about half as much work as either Randy Gregory or Bradley Chubb. He didn’t do anything all that notable, though.
His best play was a pressure at the end of the half. He also put in a very good effort on a rush through a double-team, but he didn’t quite get close enough to the quarterback to call it pressure. He was also double-teamed on a run later in the game and gave up a running lane on the edge. You can’t hold that against him but Gregory or Chubb probably would have been able to hold their ground.
OLB Nik Bonitto – B
The rookie outside linebacker wasn’t out there much (only nine snaps) but he set the edge well on one play and I wanted to highlight that.
LB Josey Jewell – A-
The Outlaw was everything you could have asked for in his 2022 debut. He tossed aside Kyle Juszczyk one-on-one for a sack. He hit Garoppolo hard again on a 2nd & 10 to start the fourth quarter. He had another pressure on the game-winning interception.
Jewell was a beast in the running game, hitting pulling offensive linemen and stopping them in their tracks and getting to the line of scrimmage or behind it for stuffs.
He also jumped on the ground and ripped the fumbled snap away from Garoppolo.
He gave up an 11-yard catch to George Kittle and got beat up the sideline by Deebo Samuel, but a couple of lackluster plays in coverage are probably to be expected. He also missed his gap on the 37-yard Jeff Wilson run on the second drive of the game.
Jewell’s nine tackles led the game and his sack, two tackles for loss and three pressures inspire plenty of confidence.
LB Jonas Griffith – A-
The 25-year-old linebacker ended the first of two San Francisco comeback bids. The ball was tipped up into the air and he was able to pull it in. That play is doing the heavy lifting in his grade.
Griffith was solid in his pursuit of the ball and didn’t miss a tackle. He’s still a half-second slow reading plays and that’s keeping him out of the backfield.
CB Pat Surtain – A
The second-year cornerback was targeted five times in the first half, and he forced five incompletions. Jimmy Garoppolo must have learned his lesson because he only targeted Surtain once in the second half. That was incomplete too.
The play of Surtain’s day was a breakup on Brandon Aiyuk on the first drive. He was in one-on-one coverage on a deep dig or curl and lept forward to get a hand on the ball. He almost picked off the pass after it deflected up in the air.
He beat up Aiyuk all day, including on another deep dig later in the game when the two players were on an island. He also swallowed Aiyuk up on a deep ball up the sideline, when Garoppolo thought the speedster could get a step in single coverage.
It was a masterful performance.
CB Ronald Darby – B
The veteran’s best work came in the run game, where he consistently set the edge when called upon. He was patient and physical. Darby gave up three catches on five targets for 34 yards.
K’Waun Williams – B
The nickel defender gave up a couple of catches, including letting Deebo Samuel get into a pocket of space behind his zone for an 18-yard gain, but the night was mostly positive.
He was stout in the run game, taking out Juszczyk on the edge on one play, which sent the running back back inside where Josey Jewell was able to make a tackle for loss.
He also had a pass breakup on a Texas route from Samuel in the fourth quarter. He was in good coverage on the game-ending interception, which helped Kareem Jackson tip the ball into the air.
FS Caden Sterns – B-
The second-year safety gave up a shallow post to Brandon Aiyuk on the first drive of the game but was mostly good the rest of the way. His big play was a knockout of a bobbled ball down the sideline in the fourth quarter. He was strong taking on blockers.
SS Kareem Jackson – A
The vet made two critical plays in the final minutes of the game. First, he tipped a ball up in the air while playing as the robber in man coverage. Jonas Griffith picked it off. Then, on the 49ers’ final possession, he recovered a fumble forced by PJ Locke. Big-time stuff.
The rest of the game went pretty well, too. He was second on the team with six tackles.
S PJ Locke – A
The 25-year-old safety sealed the game by punching the ball out of a running back’s hands.
He played 10 total snaps in sub packages (much of his work came in the final minutes when San Francisco was trying to retake the lead) and it went well. He penetrated in the run game. He held George Kittle to a short gain on a catch late in the first half. He made plays on special teams as well.
K Brandon McManus – B-
The missed field goal knocks this grade down significantly. McManus had a chance to give the Broncos a lead late in the third quarter but couldn’t knock in the 53-yarder. It was a critical miss.
McManus was otherwise stellar though. He made his other field goal attempt from 55 yards out. And he was masterful on kickoffs, knocking two into the corner of the field, which allowed the coverage team to stop the returner at the 9- and 15-yard lines.
P Corliss Waitman – A
10 punts. 476 yards. Wow.
Corliss Waitman probably had the time of his life on Sunday.
Waitman put two of the punts inside the 10 and two punts just outside it. He was stellar all night and never botched one.
WR Montrell Washington – C-
Somehow, Montrell Washington only returned one punt and it went for nine yards.
He was open for a first down on a free play but Wilson lobbed the ball up to a double-covered KJ Hamler further downfield instead. Washington didn’t have a catch.
LB Alex Singleton – A
A week after spending more snaps on the field than any other linebacker, Singleton was not part of the defensive gameplan. He made his presence felt on special teams, though. He made a great tackle on the Broncos’ first punt of the game and had a solo tackle at the 15 on the second punt. His three special teams tackles were the most by any Bronco. Nobody else had more than one.
OLB Aaron Patrick – B+
Patrick’s big moment was the tackle at the 9-yard line on the opening kickoff. He also helped bottle up the returner on the kickoff that ended at the 15. His combination of size and speed made him one of the Broncos’ top special teamers.
RB Mike Boone – B
The 27-year-old forced two fair catches and downed a punt at the one. The running back was on the field for 14 offensive plays and did nothing with them, which drags this grade down.