San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle’s historic first half put the Niners on the path to victory over the Denver Broncos. Niner Noise has your highlights, scores and analysis from the Niners’ 20-14 victory in Week 14.
The San Francisco 49ers rode a dominant defensive effort and 210 first-half receiving yards from tight end George Kittle, en route to a 20-7 victory over the Denver Broncos. While the Niners did very little in the second half, San Francisco’s 20-point halftime lead was enough for the 49ers to secure their third victory of the 2018 season.
The 49ers made the game far too interesting in the second half by allowing the Broncos, who converted five of their seven fourth-down attempts, to remain within striking distance. After his epic first half, Kittle was a non-factor for the remainder of the game, as Denver’s defense paid extra attention to their opponent’s explosive playmaker.
While in victory formation at the end of regulation, 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens made the game unnecessarily interesting by kneeling with five seconds remaining on the clock, which gave the Broncos one last play before time expired. Luckily for San Francisco, the NFL already filled its Week 14 miracle quota earlier in the day, and the Niners held on for the 20-14 victory.
Kittle shot out of the gate for San Francisco, as the tight end caught a pass on the first play from scrimmage, and added another 31-yard reception on the 49ers’ opening series. The drive ended in a field goal by kicker Robbie Gould, and a rare first-quarter lead for the home team.
Two drives later, Kittle surpassed former San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis’ record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. The second-year star showed off his uncanny combination of speed and strength on this 52-yard catch-and-run:
But the 49ers’ tight end was just getting started. On the first play of the next series, Kittle snuck out of the Niners’ backfield and into Denver’s secondary. Mullens hit his favorite target in stride, and Kittle did the rest by outrunning the Broncos’ defense for an 85-yard touchdown score:
Two drives later, Kittle moved the chains for San Francisco with receptions of 13 yards and 18 yards. Mullens then hit rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis for his fourth touchdown reception in the Niners’ last three games.
With the 49ers up 20-0 at halftime, the only question remaining was whether San Francisco would blow out the Broncos or allow them to remain in the game. Unfortunately, it was the latter:
After allowing just 65 total yards to the Broncos in a stellar first half, the 49ers’ defense had a lot more bend to it in the second half of today’s contest. Meanwhile, the Niners’ offense added just 78 offensive yards in the second half despite amassing 311 yards before halftime.
The Broncos’ second-half rebound can be attributed in part to head coach Vance Joseph‘s decision to go for it on every manageable fourth down — a concept CBS’s color commentator James Lofton fails to understand:
A pair of fourth-down conversions put Denver in position to get on the board midway through the third quarter. Cornerback Richard Sherman let his man run free when the corner was caught staring into the backfield, which gave the Broncos the ball on the 49ers’ 3-yard line. Rookie running back Phillip Lindsay, who was kept in check for the vast majority of the game, scored on the following play:
San Francisco managed to stop the Broncos on their next fourth-down try. But three plays later, 49ers wide receiver Trent Taylor alligator-armed a pass, knocking it up in the air for a Denver interception:
San Francisco’s defense held strong on the next key series, thanks to three consecutive tackles by rookie safety Marcell Harris, who rebounded from a poor performance in his first NFL start last Sunday. On fourth down, Harris fought through a rub and made a first-down saving tackle on the Broncos’ elusive RB
After another three-and-out by San Francisco, Denver drove the length of the field thanks to a pair of fourth-down conversions and an Unnecessary Roughness penalty on free safety Antone Exum. A pass interference penalty on defensive back D.J. Reed then gave Denver the ball at the 49ers’ 1-yard line.
After three straight incomplete passes, Denver quarterback Case Keenum converted another fourth-down try on a variation of the slant-flat concept to the short side of the field. Rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton provided the pick which allowed WR DaeSean Hamilton to walk in for the score, and the Broncos were within striking distance:
The 49ers received the ball from Denver with under four minutes remaining, and attempted to run out the clock with RB Jeff Wilson. After converting a third-and-7 on a 31-yard pass from Mullens to Pettis, the Niners soon found themselves in a third-and-3 situation that would finish off the game.
Taylor redeemed himself on the play, as the slot wideout ran a similar slant route, but instead hauled in the pass amidst heavy traffic to seal the victory for San Francisco — or at least we thought. In a mistake that will likely keep him up at night, Mullens turned the ball over to the Broncos four plays later by kneeling with five seconds remaining on the clock.
Fortunately, Mullens’ clock mismanagement did the 49ers little harm. The Broncos’ “hook-and-ladder” attempt soon ended in a fumble out of play, which gave San Francisco their third win of 2018, and essentially ended the Broncos’ playoff run.
In Week 15, the San Francisco 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West rivals’ second matchup of 2018. The Niners aim to finally break the Seahawks’ 10-game winning streak over San Francisco, which dates back to 2013.