There's going to be a lot of talk about Troy Smith, and rightfully so. In his first start for the 49ers, the fourth-year quarterback led the team to a 24-16 win over the Denver Broncos.
But he had help – 118 yards of help to be exact.
With a new quarterback and an opponent that entered the game with the 30th-ranked rush defense, the formula was simple: get the ball to Frank Gore early and often.
"We really wanted to establish, coming into the game, our running game," head coach Mike Singletary said. "We wanted to put our guys on them and try to wear them down."
Gore started the game strong and seemed to get better with every carry. He finished with 118 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown.
And as important as those yards and score were, establishing a productive ground game to take the pressure off of Smith was just as important.
Gore's success forced the Broncos to bring more men in the box, making things easier for Smith in the passing game.
Throughout the contest, Gore showed why he is considered among the best running backs in the NFL. He was patient, waiting for his blockers to open the running lanes, and when those lanes appeared he wasted no time running through the hole.
Perhaps no play epitomized this more than Gore's touchdown run.
On a third-and-goal from the Denver 3-yard line Gore received the handoff, waited for guard Mike Iupati to pull around to the right side, then kept his legs churning before diving for the end zone.
Tackle Joe Staley said it was a play typically called in shorter-yardage situations, but in this instance it worked just as well from the 3.
"They got a great push," Gore said. "I got behind my big guys and I kept pushing; I kept pushing until I had daylight."
Gore now has 691 rushing yards this season, and on a run in third quarter he became the first player in the NFL to surpass the 1,000-yard-from-scrimmage mark in 2010.
But while the 49ers are excited about the win, they haven't forgotten the reality of their situation in the NFC West. With their bye week coming up next, the 49ers are 2-6, and they know they have a lot of work to do in the second half of the season to make up ground in the division.
"The first half of the season was tough on us, but we finished out with a win," Gore said. "Now as a team we have to watch all of the mistakes that we have made and try to clean them up and try to reach the goals we set."
All Manny Lawson has done for the last several weeks is make plays, and the starting outside linebacker was at it again Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
He finished the game with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble that helped the 49ers seal the win.
After the 49ers took a 17-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos took possession looking to tie the game up. But Lawson ended the drive before it really had a chance to get started.
On the second play of the possession the 49ers forced Denver quarterback Kyle Orton to scramble, and just as he approached the first-down line, Lawson stripped the ball out of his right hand allowing linebacker Takeo Spikes to recover the fumble.
Six plays later the 49ers took a 24-10 lead on Gore's touchdown.
"He's a guy who has really come into his own these last few weeks," Singletary said of Lawson. "He's always been around the plays, he's always been close. But now he's closing in on some plays and really becoming a playmaker, and that's great to see."
Loving LondonOf course the 49ers will enjoy leaving London with a win, but to a man, every member of the team said they loved their entire experience overseas.
They said the people were friendly, the crowd was rocking and they received support everywhere they went.
"This trip was tremendous trip," Smith said. "The people here in London are incredible people, some of the most cordial people you will ever meet. I've had a great time since I've been here, and obviously the fans love football, United States football, just as much as we do.
"The fans made it a good time."
Takeo Spikes enjoyed himself so much, he wouldn't mind making London an annual trip.
"I had a ball," the 13th-year linebacker said. "I wish I could play a game here every year, to be honest with you."
Extra PointsGore's 100-yard rushing game was his third straight triple-digit performance. The last time he had three consecutive 100-yard games was Nov. 19, 2006, thru Nov. 26, 2006. The 49ers are 17-7 when Gore rushes for at least 100 yards.
Tight end Delanie Walker registered a career-high 85 yards on five receptions, including a 38-yard catch to the 1 yard- line to set up the 49ers first touchdown.
The 49ers offensive line did not allow a sack for the second time this season. The last time was Week 2 against New Orleans.
Cornerback Shawntae Spencer intercepted Orton to seal the victory, his third pick of the season.