Troy Smith scores.
The San Francisco 49ers may have finally found the leader they have been looking for on offense. Troy Smith did everything that fans hoped he would. He demonstrated arm strength, accuracy and mobility.
But most importantly, Smith proved he was man enough for the job.
It was a tale of two halves for Smith. His lack of success in the first half can be attributed to rust, nerves, and coaches design to play it safe.
Throughout the game, Smith demonstrated "escape-ability" and extended several plays by scrambling.
After Denver scored a third quarter touchdown, and then a fourth quarter field goal to take a 10-3 lead, the coaches let Smith open it up. He responded by hitting Delanie Walker on a 38-yard pass that Walker caught between Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins. Call it lucky or call it beautiful, it set up Smith two plays later—a one-yard bootleg into the end zone.
Later in the game Smith would find Michael Crabtree on a 28-yard scoring drive.
Meanwhile Kyle Orton was torching the 49ers secondary for 369 yards.
He had a great game statistically speaking, but it might just be something else he is remembered for in this game.
Early in the game, Orton was feeling pressure from the 49ers pass rush and went down untouched. The play was reminiscent of the one that former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jim Everett was involved in. After Everett was "sacked" without contact in a game, he would later appear on sports talk show host Jim Rome's show. Rome would famously refer to Everett as "Chris" (after tennis star Chris Everett), a mantra that would haunt Everett for the rest of his career.
I used that same reference last week to describe a play where Ted Ginn ran for cover. Is it just me, or is that sort of thing expected and accepted now?
But if that isn't bad enough, Orton may have created a new play in NFL football—the flop.
Manny Lawson came off the outside edge on a blitz and had Orton in his sights. Orton upon seeing Lawson ducked. When Orton ducked it caused Lawson's hands to brush Orton's helmet. Orton immediately pleaded his case to the officials by patting his helmet. It worked and he drew the flag.
I know that the officials are suppose to crack down on head hunters, but this was a clear case of inadvertent contact.
It may have served to fire Lawson up though. He later drilled Orton on a quarterback hit, causing Orton to leave the game temporarily.
Then late in the game, Lawson chased down Orton from behind and stripped the ball loose. The 49ers' Takeo Spikes recovered the ball and San Fran scored several plays later.
Sometimes the ball bounces your way. That seemed to never happen when Alex Smith was running this offense.
Not only was Smith effective throwing the ball (12-of-19, 196 yards, one touchdown, 115.2 quarterback rating) and running the ball (touchdown on bootleg), but he seemed to bring with him that football mystique.
While scrambling to avoid pressure, he fumbled the ball, yet it bounced right back into his hands. On the 38-yard throw to Walker, he threw while under heavy pressure and across his body, but somehow Walker came down with it.
The broadcasters called it "lucky," yet if Brett Favre had thrown it they would have said it was beautiful.
Whatever the case, the 49ers finally caught some breaks and Smith was a large part of it.
Frank Gore was again the workhorse, gaining a tough 118 yards on 29 carries. He also scored on a three-yard touchdown run and had a long gain of 21 yards. He was key in wearing down the Denver defense and then allowing Smith to open it up.
Anthony Dixon saw a little more action this game, gaining 11 yards on five carries. He was curiously used towards the end of game when the 49ers where trying to run down the clock. The rookie got three straight carries up the middle, gaining about a total of eight yards and coming up short for a first down. It would seem like in a situation like this you would want to use your veteran. If Dixon had fumbled, Singletary would forever be seconded guessed for using him, but I guess he is probably used to that.
The team said they were going to use Brian Westbrook more and true to their word they did. He doubled his amount of carries, getting two in the game for four yards.
Westbrook also caught a pass for nine yards, netting a first down.
Can't really blame the receivers here for the lack of a huge day. They did the most with what they were given.
Delanie Walker returned to full-time action just in time to become Smith's favorite target. He caught five balls for 97 yards and of course make the beautiful 38-yard on the one-yard line.
Michael Crabtree had three catches for 53 yards, highlighted by his 28-yard touchdown catch.
Josh Morgan had only one catch, but he made it count for 30 yards.
An apparent ankle injury limited Vernon Davis, he had only one catch of 12 yards before leaving the game with the injury. No word yet on the seriousness of the injury.
Last week I gave the offensive line an F. My reasoning was that if you give up a sack that knocks your quarterback out of the game, that is an automatic fail.
By that same reasoning, if you don't give up a sack at all and open some nice lanes for your running back, you should be rewarded.
It is amazing what a mobile quarterback can do for your pass protection, isn't it?
My only knock on the O-line this week is a failure to convert on 3rd-and-1 on the Broncos' 17-yard line early in the game and having to settle for a field goal.
Of course it may have helped if the officials had given us a measurement on the previous play.
The play of the game for these guys had to be their blocking on Gore's touchdown run. That is the kind of blocking we have been waiting to see all season.
Justin Smith had a pretty nice game. He had two sacks, two quarterback hits and four tackles, two of which went for losses.
The rest of the group was quietly effective. Isaac Sopoaga had one tackle and deflected a pass. Aubrayo Franklin had a nice tackle in the backfield.
Ray McDonald also added a tackle.
The group helped limit the Broncos to a mere 59 yards rushing—a 3.5 yards per rush average.
London fans got to see Patrick Willis at his finest. Willis was an animal recording nine tackles—eight of which were solo. On one three-and-out in the fourth quarter, Willis recorded every tackle.
Not to be out done was Manny Lawson, who harassed Orton all day, sacking him once and getting two other quarterback hits as well as his strip of Orton.
I had to laugh at commentator Dan Dierdorf referring to it as an "intentional strip." Is there any other kind Dan?
Letting his actions do his talking for him about reduced playing time, Takeo Spikes had seven tackles.
Ahmed Brooks had three tackles and a sack. Brooks would have had another sack, but another questionable "roughing the passer" call negated it.
Only a game-sealing interception by Shawntae Spencer managed to give this group a passing grade.
They again gave up over 300 yards.
However, this time the guy that gouged them most, former 49er Brandon Lloyd, has been coming up with big plays all season.
If you take away his 169 yards, the secondary would have held the Broncos to 200 yards passing—but you cant, just ask Taylor Mays.
Mays, for the second week in a row, was burned by play action. He gave up a 71-yard reception to Lloyd on the play, but give him credit—he stayed with him and tackled him at the one. A short-lived victory though, as the Broncos Tim Tebow ran the ball in on the next play.
Will James did make a nice play late in the game on Lloyd; in fact if Lloyd hadn't knocked the ball away, James could have very well had an interception.
Ted Ginn Jr.
Andy Lee had six punts with a real nice 49.3 yard average.
Joe Nedney missed a long field goal, but was good on a 38-yarder and all three extra-point attempts. I am just thrilled he got the opportunity to kick three extra points!
Ted Ginn Jr. still doesn't look to me like an explosive threat on kick and punt returns, but he did manage a 22.6 average with a long of 36 yards on kick returns. He was less effective on punts, handling two with a 7.5 yard average.
The coverage teams had a nice day. They did allow Eddie Royal to break a punt return for an apparent touchdown late in the game; however, that play was nullified due to block in the back on Navorro Bowman.
The penalty was at the point of attack, but it looked to me as if Bowman would have over ran the play. No matter, the penalty was called and the touchdown was nullified.
The best decision the coaches made in this game was to get to London early and get adjusted to the time change.
Technically speaking, this was a home game for the 49ers, but in reality it was the mother of all road games.
Both teams started slow—the 49ers were adjusting to a new quarterback—but they looked fresher in the second half.
A nice gameplan allowed Smith to play it safe in the beginning by relying heavily on Gore, but a dawning realization by Singletary that you sometimes have to open up your offense to win games allowed Troy Smith to make some real nice throws under heavy pressure and win the game.
Again, curious call allowing Dixon to handle the ball all three times near the end of the game when a first down would have, in effect, ended the game. A fumble may have also ended the game.
The fact that Singletary admitted to underestimating the importance of having an offensive leader is just as much an indictment on his experience as a head coach as it is on Alex Smith's lack of leadership.
I really can't believe there is a question on which Smith we will see after the bye, but then again this is Mike Singletary's team...for now.