All thoughts, comments and wisecracks welcome in the comments section, just keep ‘em clean …
5:02 P.M. PDT: I’m not making any wisecracks about the crowd, about the fact that empty seats seem to outnumber occupied ones. It’s 5 p.m on a Monday, and people work for a living. As someone who grew up in the Eastern Time Zone, I once scoffed at the notion Westerners had about “East Coast bias.” After living in Seattle for a year and Colorado for five, I now see their point. Five p.m. on a weeknight in a region known for traffic gridlock is a ridiculous kickoff time for the paying customers, as well as fans who’d like to get home to watch the game on TV.
5:03 P.M. PDT: Rant concluded. Game time.
5:05 P.M. PDT: The stadium stands for a moment of silence in memory of Hall of Famer Bill Walsh. Of course, I didn’t realize this until the actual moment of silence, because the press-box P.A. announcer did not inform us in the mic-and-laptop set.
5:06 P.M. PDT: Denver’s three captains for the game are center Tom Nalen, safety John Lynch and placekicker Jason Elam. The Broncos call heads and win the toss, so we’ll see Jay Cutler and the offense first.
5:08 P.M. PDT: Quincy Morgan will field the kickoff that opens the Broncos’ 48th season … he came upfield to field it at the 11-yard-line and burrowed his way forward through a thicket of players to the 32.
5:09 P.M. PDT: Denver opens with two tight ends — Daniel Graham and Nate Jackson. Jackson was split out as a slot receiver. Two wideouts (Javon Walker and Domenik Hixon) and tailback Travis Henry join Jay Cutler among the skill-position players.
5:10 P.M. PDT: After a strong start to the game on the first snap — a 12-yard Travis Henry run — Jay Cutler one-hops a pass to Hixon up the left side incomplete. He makes up for it in a big way one snap later, with a 24-yard strike to Javon Walker, moving the Broncos into field-goal range.
5:12 P.M. PDT: This kid Henry … he’s pretty good, sneaking between a pair of 49ers defenders and making them look silly on a 9-yard, first-and-10 gain. One play later, he turned disaster into a first down, breaking a tackle attempt by Brandon Moore in the backfield and turning a three-yard loss into a six-yard gain, placing the Broncos in the red zone.
5:13 P.M. PDT: Two great escapes in two plays, as Jay Cutler skipped free of Marques Douglas and took off for 16 yards up the middle, setting up first-and-goal.
5:15 P.M. PDT: There’s that authority from Henry at the goal line … second try from one yard out, touchdown. A brilliant eight-play, 68-yard drive that consumed 4:06 is exactly the way Head Coach Mike Shanahan wanted his offense to open this one up.
5:17 P.M. PDT: I have no TV sound, so if you notice anything odd from the broadcast — or hear Tony Kornheiser taking more needless potshots at Denver, as he did last October — feel free. “It’d be great if we could do that all the time,” says my mother, calling in from Florida.
5:19 P.M. PDT: Of note on the first-team defense … Amon Gordon replaces Gerard Warren at tackle … D.D. Lewis starts at strongside linebacker. Aside from that, it’s the standard lineup from training camp — John Engelberger and Ebenezer Ekuban at the ends; Sam Adams at the other tackle, D.J. Williams and Ian Gold at middle and weakside linebacker, respectively, John Lynch and Nick Ferguson at the safeties and Champ Bailey and Dre’ Bly on the corners.
5:21 P.M. PDT: Two plays to Maurice Hicks, and the 49ers are in Broncos territory at the Denver 45. Scott O’Brien couldn’t be happy with the field position that followed the kickoff — the San Francisco 38-yard-line after a 31-yard Bryan Gilmore return.
5:22 P.M. PDT: An 18-yard pss to Darrell Jackson in front of Champ Bailey brings the 49ers to the Denver 21, but a play later the Broncos get their first sack of the game — and it belongs to John Engelberger, playing in Monster Park for the first time since the 49ers traded him to Denver in 2005.
5:24 P.M. PDT: Give the credit for the third-down stop to Elvis Dumervil, who came from around left end to hit Smith as he threw, forcing an incompletion. Jarvis Moss also made his pro debut just now, but looked to be favoring the knee he injured last week as he left the field.
5:25 P.M. PDT: Nedney’s 37-yard field-goal attempt is good, and it’s 7-3, Broncos.
5:30 P.M. PDT: Morgan takes the kickoff two yards deep in the end zone and gets to the 20-yard-line. Some of the first-teamers are out; Cutler has been removed, replaced by Patrick Ramsey. Erik Pears remains at left tackle, but Chris Kuper is now at left guard as Chris Myers slides over to center for Tom Nalen. Montrae Holland and Adam Meadows remain on the right side. Your Broncos backfield now includes Troy Fleming at fullback and Cecil Sapp at tailback.
5:31 P.M. PDT: It’s too bad a holding penalty on Pears will wipe out Ramsey’s first completion as a Bronco; everything about the pass itself was stellar, from Ramsey stepping away from a pass-rusher’s grasp to a pass that zipped its way towards the left sideline, where Hixon grabbed it. Sapp then got the Broncos out of a second-and-18 purgatory with an 11-yard jaunt up the right sideline.
5:33 P.M. PDT: Well, so much for that. Tully Banta-Cain clobbered Ramsey to force an incompletion, and Todd Sauerbrun then line-drived a 45-yard punt that ended up netting 13 yards after Brandon Williams’ return. Good field position once again for the Niners.
5:34 P.M. PDT: The first-team defense obviously still has some work to do, as it remains in the game. As I type that, Maurice Hicks scoots outside for 20 yards before Lynch forces him out of bounds at the Denver 30.
5:36 P.M. PDT: Arnaz Battle got behind Gold on a slant, and Gold couldn’t locate Smith’s pass before it reached Battle. First-and-goal for the Broncos.
5:37 P.M. PDT: Gordon stops Michael Robinson for what was recorded as no gain but was actually a gain of a half-yard. Robinson then finished the job one play later by leaping over the right side to put the 49ers in front.
5:41 P.M. PDT: Did the special teams ever need that … after some shaky plays on punt and kickoff coverage, Morgan followed a series of blocks — including one from Kyle Johnson — to gain 58 yards and put the Broncos close to scoring range immediately after Robinson’s touchdown.
5:43 P.M. PDT: Mike Bell was the third running back up behind Henry and Sapp, but he hasn’t looked third-rate; his 13-yard carry — also his third in succession — saw him elude two tacklers while moving the Broncos into the red zone. His fourth consecutive carry gained nine yards; he now has all 34 yards on the drive as the quarter concludes with the Broncos at the San Francisco four-yard-line.
Tags: San Francisco 49ers