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SANTA CLARA — Here is how the 49ers (3-10) graded in Sunday’s 20-14 win over the Denver Broncos (6-7) at Levi’s Stadium:
PASS OFFENSE: A
George Kittle exposed flaws in Denver’s man-to-man defense (and other issues) to rack up seven catches for 210 yards, the most in a first half by anyone since the Seattle Seahawks’ Steve Largent (224 yards, 1987). Kittle’s 85-yard touchdown is the signature play in a skyrocketing career, a play that topped his a one-handed gem against the Raiders because he didn’t score on that and because this one put him over 1,000 yards, a first by a 49ers tight end.
While Kittle got shut out after halftime, Nick Mullens chugged along, finished 20-of-33 for 332 yards and didn’t fumble under pressure (three sacks, seven hits). Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor made up for late-game gaffes with third-down conversions, and Pettis has scored in three straight games.
Allowing only three sacks to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb is acceptable, so kudos to the line, especially Joe Staley (1 catch, minus-5 yards) and Mike McGlinchey (0 career catches, so catch up, pal).
RUN OFFENSE: B
Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for a respectable 90 yards (23 carries) in his first career start while Matt Breida (ankle) sat. Wilson’s longest run was for 11 yards, only to fumble at the end and getting lucky Kendrick Bourne recovered for the 49ers. Alfred Morris had a two-carry cameo for 4 yards, and Matt Dayes has yet to see his first NFL carry. This segment can’t be complete without noting Mullens’ final carry could have been disastrous, as he took the victory-kneel snap too soon and thus allowed the Broncos a final play and a chance to replicate Miami’s last-play miracle earlier Sunday.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
Is this as good as it gets? If so, alright, as long as the 49ers offense can milk the clock like it did and not allow time for another lead to get blown (see: losses to Chargers, Packers, Cardinals, Giants). Cassius Marsh showed up well in the fourth, as did rookie safety Marcell Harris. The Broncos’ last TD, a fourth-and-goal throw, came as they executed a pick play against Reed with Richard Sherman nearby. The 49ers were lucky there wasn’t time left for a final Broncos series. No interceptions or fumble recoveries for a fifth straight game!
RUN DEFENSE: A
By stopping Phillip Lindsay early on, the 49ers run defense set the much-needed tone, and Lindsay finished with just 30 yards (14 carries) after back-to-back, 100-yard games. Case Keenum was almost as dangerous scrambling (four carries, 24 yards) as he was passing (24-of-42, 186 yards, 1 TD). D.J. Reed, replacing K’Waun Williams at nickel back, made 12 tackles and had a sack while fellow rookie Harris had seven tackles and two for loss. Other impressive tackles came from Richard Sherman, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, Elijah Lee and Fred Warner, who added only four tackles to his team-leading total of 95.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Nice rebound from a poor showing in Seattle, although Richie James fumbled again on a punt return and thus lost the job to Trent Taylor (two returns, 26 yards). James’ three kick returns got stopped at the 49ers’ 22-, 20- and 20-yard lines. What was most impressive, all due respect to Robbie Gould making both of his field-goal attempts, was the coverage by Tarvarius Moore and Greg Mabin to repeatedly pin the Broncos. Plus, James Onwualu forced a fumble on a kickoff. Bradley Pinion had a 20-yard net punt on one that went into the end zone.
You knew Kyle Shanahan was going to have a great scheme against a Broncos team that passed on him last year and last won Super Bowls with his dad as coach. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, finally, got to TV time celebrating some plays. Most of all, excellent job by Shanahan & Co. not only preparing the players but also handling Friday’s tragic death of Tony York, youngest son of 49ers owners John York and Denise DeBartolo York.