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49ers Edge Past the Broncos 21-20; Seven Takeaways From #DENvsSF

The San Francisco 49ers will close out the preseason at Levi's® Stadium and continued their exhibition slate on Saturday against the Denver Broncos. Unlike their preseason opener in Las Vegas, this second contest featured a majority of the team's projected starters on both sides of the ball. The most notable debut of the 2023 preseason was quarterback Brock Purdy who was recently cleared of all practice restrictions following a season-ending elbow injury and offseason surgery.

"I was pumped how we finished and pumped about the win," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "(We did) some good things, but we still have a lot to clean up."

Here are seven takeaways from Saturday's game:

Purdy moved the ball down the field well in his preseason debut.

The 49ers second-year QB was under center for the first offensive series and led San Francisco on a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive to take a 3-0 lead early. Purdy targeted wide receiver Deebo Samuel three-straight times to get things going, headlined by an impressive 25-yard catch and run by the veteran wideout. Purdy got his first sack of the year out of the way and followed up the hit with an eight-yard scramble. The drive ended with a 20-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jake Moody.

"It felt really good to just be out there with the guys in a game environment, get the nerves out a little bit and build up to a game," Purdy said. "Being able to get an early completion to Deebo and get things going felt really good."

Having Purdy log some live-action reps wasn't a huge surprise with head coach Kyle Shanahan keeping his options open regarding his starters earlier in the week. The former seventh-round pick exited the game following the opening drive and was replaced by quarterback Sam Darnold. He went four-of-five for 65 yards and closed out the day with a 118.8 passer rating.

"I thought he did really good. All the plays that he had, he made," Shanahan said. "I don't think he had a bad one. That sack, we busted a protection. We'll see if he could have done anything and got rid of it. You always try to get rid of it because once you get sacked, it's tough to score, but it didn't look there was much he could do live."

The head coach went on to note the plan is to have the projected starters play again next week.

Darnold played through most of the third quarter, and Trey Lance took over the rest of the way.

Quarterback reps were allocated differently than in the preseason opener with Darnold logging a bulk of the game reps on Saturday. The veteran QB had a solid day, distributing the ball well, making good throws through tight windows while under pressure. In addition to his touchdown to Jack Colletto in the third quarter, Darnold's other impressive throw of the day was a would-be 21-yard completion to wide receiver Jauan Jennings that was called back due to a penalty. He completed 11-of-14 pass attempts for 109 yards, a touchdown and a 93.2 passer rating.

Lance came in with 1:22 left to go in the third quarter and led the 49ers on a nine-play 38-yard scoring drive in the final frame of the game. San Francisco was able to get within a point of the Broncos with 6:37 left in the game following Jake Moody's 43-yard field goal. The third-year QB had his best show in a hurry-up offense in San Francisco's two final offensive series. On the 49ers second to last drive, Lance linked up with rookie tight end Cameron Latu for the 22-yard score, setting up that touchdown by firing a dart to wide receiver Willie Snead IV over the middle for a 14-yard gain.

The 49ers final series was headlined by a 43-yard completion to rookie Ronnie Bell and capped off by a third field goal by Moody to secure the victory. Lance made 12-of-18 pass attempts for 173 yards, a touchdown, interception and 93.0 passer rating.

"It felt great. It was fun. The offensive line did a great job," Lance said when asked about his fourth quarter rhythm. "We had some dumb penalties, but it was awesome. Guys made plays, and we came out with the win."

"I thought all (three quarterbacks) did a good job," Shanahan said. "It's a good stepping stone for next week."

The defensive line stacked the sacks.

The 49ers revamped defensive line showcased early returns with the group's preseason sack total up to three following their matchup with Denver. T.Y. McGill got home first, sacking Broncos quarterback Jarrett Stidham during the Broncos second offensive series for a loss of eight yards. The play put Denver in a third-and-long situation, and the team to settle for a 34-yard field goal. Marlon Davidson sacked Stidham on the ensuing drive for a loss of two yards and forced a three-and-out.

Wide receiver Danny Gray and defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr. sustained injuries in the first half of Saturday's contest.

The second-year receiver was the returner for the opening kickoff and did not return to the game after the play. Gray returned the ball 23 yards to set San Francisco up on the 29 yard line for their first offensive series. He was later ruled out with a shoulder injury.

In the second quarter, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr. was also ruled out with a shoulder injury. Running back Jeremy McNichols was ruled out in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.

Rookie kicker Jake Moody made his kicking debut at Levi's® Stadium.

The 49ers third-round pick was the team kicker for the entire first half of the game and put up his first field goal in a 49ers uniform. Moody sailed a kick through the uprights from 20-yards out to get San Francisco on the board early in the first quarter. Later in the second half, Moody missed on a PAT following fullback Jack Colletto's 11-yard touchdown grab. In the fourth quarter, he booted another successful field goal, that time from 43 yards out.

Shanahan noted earlier in the week veteran Zane Gonzalez would have an opportunity to kick versus Denver in the second half. Gonzalez was tasked with three second half kickoffs.

Rookie fullback Jack Colletto scored his first NFL touchdown.

The undrafted rookie free agent found the end zone late in the third quarter to put San Francisco up 9-6. Colletto caught an 11-yard pass from Darnold to log the team's first touchdown of the day and capped off a nine-play, 63-yard drive for the 49ers. Fellow rookies Ronnie Bell and Brayden Willis contributed to this scoring drive. Bell connected with Darnold on a 21-yard gain, and Willis snagged a nine-yard catch to help move the ball down the field.

Pass Breakups All Around

The 49ers defense had three near interceptions on Saturday with cornerback Samuel Womack III and linebacker Marcelino McCrary-Ball combining for three passes defensed. McCrary-Ball's PBU came on a fourth-down attempt by Denver and forced a turnover on downs in the third quarter.

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