Peyton Manning took advantage of a shorthanded San Francisco 49ers defense, put on an exceptional preseason showcase and set the tone for the Denver Broncos' 34-0 road win in the first NFL game at Levi's Stadium.
49ers fans couldn't have been pleased with how things unfolded, but for objective football fans, Denver's offense firing on all cylinders had to be marvelous to watch.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network was impressed with how the 38-year-old Manning picked apart San Francisco's vaunted defense:
Watching Peyton Manning play like he did in the first half — making it look effortless — makes me think he can play forever.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 17, 2014
To delve into one of the themes of the game, take this quote from Manning, per the NFL on ESPN:
"Pressure is something you feel when you don't know what the hell you're doing." - Peyton Manning— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 16, 2014
Pressure to play well is something Manning evidently doesn't feel too often. A preseason game is therefore a mere formality for one of the game's most legendary quarterbacks. When the opposition isn't pressuring Manning from the pocket, it makes stopping him all the more impossible.
To be fair, though, All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis wasn't in uniform along with multiple prominent contributors, per Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com:
One thing to consider is the people who are not playing - Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Justin Smith, Tramaine Brock, Bethea hurt— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) August 17, 2014
Missing all of those players, along with the injured NaVorro Bowman, made the San Francisco defense less intimidating. Manning didn't show any mercy.
The Niners failed to generate much pressure on Manning, which led to The Sheriff methodically gashing them, with the top highlight being a 17-yard touchdown strike to tight end Julius Thomas.
Fox Sports 1's Kirk Morrison observed the matchup problems Thomas creates:
I guess I should say covering Julius Thomas w/ a safety as well is a mismatch. Touchdown pass from Manning to Julius Thomas w/ safety on him— Kirk Morrison (@kirkmorrison) August 17, 2014
Manning's counterpart, Colin Kaepernick, was unspectacular in completing 5 of 9 passes for 39 yards, subsequently failing to put up any points. San Francisco's typically strong rushing attack never got rolling, either, producing no runs of more than nine yards and averaging just 2.9 yards per carry as a team.
Mike Klis of The Denver Post highlighted how well Manning's heir apparent, Brock Osweiler, kept the momentum going with the second unit:
Final stats for Brock Osweiler: 10 of 13, 105 yards, 1 TD, 125.5 rating. Again, Peyton Manning: 12 of 14, 102 yards, 1 TD, 120.8 rating.— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) August 17, 2014
Osweiler offered a glimpse into the future of the franchise when he found rookie receiver Cody Latimer on a 33-yard touchdown toss in the third quarter.
CBS4 Denver sportscaster Vic Lombardi broke down the play and how Latimer used his size and leverage to haul in the catch:
Physical and fast. Physical enough to hold off the DB. Fast enough to run it down. Cody Latimer is nice. So was that pass from Oz— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) August 17, 2014
One man who was thought to be the face of the Jacksonville Jaguars organization, Niners backup QB Blaine Gabbert, continued to struggle. Gabbert was pulled from the game in favor of Josh Johnson after an interception, finishing with a meager 40 yards on 14 pass attempts.
Gabbert's day is over. Over 2 preseason games, he's gone 11-25, 60 yds, 2 INT. #49ers— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 17, 2014
Gabbert was badly outplayed by the Broncos' future signal-caller Osweiler, to say the least.
Comcast SportsNet's John Middlekauff and NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah weighed in on the ominous outlook for San Francisco's quarterback depth chart:
Lotta #49ers fans tweeting at me about Christian Ponder, shows you how desperate this backup situation has become— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) August 17, 2014
Christian Ponder would be a huge upgrade as the 49ers backup QB. It will be interesting to see what MIN does with him.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 17, 2014
To add insult to injury on the scoreboard and with respect to their situations at the most vital position, Broncos No. 3 QB Zac Dysert found tight end Cameron Morrah for a 16-yard TD connection.
Check out this discouraging Niners trend, per ESPN's Bill Williamson:
#49ers outscored 57-3 with half of preseason in books— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) August 17, 2014
Overreacting to anything that happens in the preseason is always a danger when evaluating the NFL's exhibition games. Several suspicions were confirmed Sunday, though. Manning and the Denver passing game look as potent as ever, even with the offseason departures of receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno. That's bad news for the rest of the league.
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As for the Niners, there ought to be serious concerns about their cornerbacks in coverage, even without Tramaine Brock playing in Sunday's game. Also, if the athletic Kaepernick extends plays too often with his feet and carries the ball frequently, he leaves himself susceptible to injury. That would be catastrophic based on how San Francisco doesn't have a viable backup QB at the moment.
These are two of the most prominent pro football franchises, but the Broncos appear to be a clear cut above the Niners at the moment. Although this game doesn't count for anything in the end, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has to be at least somewhat alarmed with the lackluster effort and lopsided result.
It doesn't forecast certain doom, yet there seems to be less certainty than ever since Harbaugh took over that the Niners will be among the NFL's elite teams.