What We Learned from 49ers vs. Broncos

View the top photos from San Francisco's exhibition tuneup against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

DENVER -- Week 3 of the preseason saw the San Francisco 49ers close out a long trip to Denver with a 19-12 loss against the Broncos on Saturday night from Sports Authority Field.

The third exhibition contest is often referred to as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, and that analogy rang true Saturday night. Both San Francisco's first-team offense and defense played the entire first half.

The same was true for the Broncos starters, as Peyton Manning remained on the field for the first two quarters.

There were a number of players and storylines that left a lasting impresion Saturday – Torrey Smith caught his first pass of the preseason and Reggie Bush made his 49ers debut – but it would be wrong to not start with No. 53...

Bowman is a bad, bad man

Everyone was anxious to see what kind of encore NaVorro Bowman would have following his three-tackles-in-three-plays performance against the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers star linebacker certainly didn't disappoint in his second action since returning from injury.

After winning the opening coin toss, the 49ers elected to defer to the second half. Bowman and the defense immediately forced a three-and-out, with No. 53 recording a tackle on the second play of the game.

On the following drive, the linebacker thwarted a red-zone opportunity for the Broncos, sacking Peyton Manning twice in four plays. Bowman blitzed on both occasions and Denver failed to get a hand on him. On the second of the two sacks, Bowman timed his blitz perfectly, bringing down Manning immediately following the snap.

Bowman played the entire first half and finished with a ridiculous nine tackles, including three tackles for loss.

It's safe to say that Bowman is regular-season ready.

Messin' with Manning

It wasn't just Bowman who shined Saturday night, though. The 49ers entire first-team defense was fantastic against the Broncos.

Despite being on the field for 21:14 in the first half alone, San Francisco kept Manning out of the end zone and held the Broncos explosive offense to just two field goals. In addition to Bowman's two sacks, Corey Lemonier got a sack of his own.

Cornerback Kenneth Acker intercepted Manning in the end zone on a pass intended for Demaryius Thomas. The quarterback lofted a pass up the right sideline but Acker had Thomas covered stride-for-stride, positioning himself to make a play on the ball. The takeaway was the only turnover of the first half.

Rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt introduced himself to the future Hall of Famer as well. With the Broncos facing 3rd-and-goal from the 49ers 3-yard line, Tartt burst through the line of scrimmage and planted Manning into the grass at Sports Authority Field. Manning got the pass off in time to avoid the sack, but it fell incomplete as the 49ers defense again held the Broncos to three points.

Manning's night was done after the first half, leaving the game with a line of 14-for-21 passing for 124 yards, no touchdowns and the one interception while being hit four times by the 49ers defense. The Broncos offense was also 0-for-2 in the red zone during Manning's time in the ball game.

A week after holding the Dallas Cowboys to zero first downs in the first quarter, the 49ers starting defense can hang its hat on another standout performance.

Standout Special Teams

Thomas McGaughey, Jr. should be proud with what he saw from the 49ers special teams. The coordinator of the unit saw his kickers go 4-for-4 in their field-goal attempts: Dawson hit from 41 and undrafted rookie Corey Acosta was true from 50, 38 and 29 yards out. The 29-yarder gave the 49ers a 12-11 lead with 5:43 left in the game.

Safety L.J. McCray, who is also one of the team's top gunners on punt coverage, lowered the hammer on Broncos returner Omar Bolden midway through the first quarter.

Rookie punter Bradley Pinion punted the ball five times and posted a 46-yard average, including a long of 50.

Other Notes:

  • Acker and Keith Reaser started at cornerback for the 49ers with Tramaine Brock sidelined due to injury. In addition to his interception, Acker also recorded a pass breakup in the end zone on the third-down play where Tartt got to Manning.
  • The 49ers biggest passing play of the day came on a 22-yard completion from Blaine Gabbert to tight end Brent Celek. Rookie Blake Bell also recorded two catches for 17 yards as the team's tight ends continue to be a major part of the passing game.
  • Bruce Ellington made his preseason debut after returning to practice this week and caught three passes for 28 yards. Two of the catches moved the chains and gave the 49ers offense a fresh set of downs. The second-year wideout also drew a holding penalty midway through the fourth quarter that set up a 1st-and-goal.
  • San Francisco's starting offensive line went as follows: Joe Staley (LT), Alex Boone (LG), Marcus Martin (C), Ian Silberman (RG) and Erik Pears (RT).
  • Craig Dahl, Nick Moody, Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bishop, Garrett Celek and Brock all didn't play due to injury.
  • 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the offense at the end of the second quarter, taking off and running for healthy gains of 19 and 34 yards on back-to-back plays. The drive ended in a 41-yard field goal from Dawson to get San Francisco on the scoreboard.
  • Smith's one catch went for five yards. Bush carried the ball once on a 3rd-and-22 play, nearly moving the chains with a 21-yard burst up the middle. The running back also recovered a fumble and gained nine yards on the play.
  • Jarryd Hayne had one punt return on the night that went for 12 yards. He also ran the ball twice for no gain and caught one pass for 18 yards. On the reception, Hayne put a nice move on a linebacker to get open and was one broken tackle away from taking it to the house. 
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