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Loss in London

Posted Oct 31, 2010

The Broncos fell to the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, pushing their record to 2-6.

LONDON -- As the Broncos trotted onto the pitch at Wembley Stadium in front of 83,941 fans waiving San Francisco 49ers flags, they knew they were in for a challenge.

The contest in London was obviously a road game for both teams, but San Francisco was designated as the home club, so the video board constantly showed 49ers highlights intended to get the crowd excited -- and it worked.

On the strength of a 21-point, fourth-quarter spurt, the 49ers pulled out a 24-16 victory to push the Broncos to 2-6.

"It was tough out there," Mario Haggan said. "They had a lot of people going for them, but all-in-all you've got to give it to the 49ers -- there were 11 of them. The crowd was just the 12th man."

The scoreboard at Wembley, which serves as the home ground for England's national soccer team, had the familiar look of a soccer score at halftime -- 3-0 in favor of San Francisco.

The Broncos and 49ers both had the ball five times in the first half. Eight of the 10 possessions ended with punts -- the other two were a field goal and a kneeldown to end the half.

But the less-than-thrilling first act gave way to a second half with a lot more action, which started when the Broncos took over possession early in the third quarter.

After three short gains to give Denver a first down at its own 28-yard line, Kyle Orton dropped back and launched a pass deep to Brandon Lloyd, who raced downfield to the 1-yard line.

The 71-yard completion was Lloyd's seventh reception of 40 or more yards this season, the highest total in the NFL.

Then Tim Tebow stepped into the backfield, rushing the remaining yard into the end zone for the second touchdown of his career to give the Broncos a 7-3 lead.

It looked like the Broncos would pile it on when Orton handed off to Knowshon Moreno, who promptly tossed the ball back to the quarterback. Orton connected with Jabar Gaffney for a 38-yard touchdown on the flea flicker, but it was negated by a chop block penalty.

In the end, the Broncos settled for a 32-yard field goal from Matt Prater and a 10-3 lead instead.

"I think it was a critical portion of the game," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said. "To take a 14-point lead there in the second half, I think that would have been a big thing in a game that was as tight as this one was for as long as it was. We felt like we had a good play. The design of the play was the right kind of play to call at that end of the field. We thought we got the response we got from their secondary. But, unfortunately, it didn't work out the way we hoped it would."

From there, the ball seemed to consistently bounce San Francisco's way.

The 49ers responded with three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- a rushing touchdown by quarterback Troy Smith, a passing touchdown from Smith to Michael Crabtree and a 3-yard score by Frank Gore -- to build a 24-10 lead.

In the process, Gore surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground and Smith racked up a quarterback rating of 115.2 in his first start since 2007.

"It just turned on us," Justin Bannan said of the momentum swing. "Sometimes when it rains it pours, and that's how it feels right now. So we need to regroup, just come out swinging in the second half (of the season) and get some things to go our way."

Denver nearly mounted a furious comeback late in the game, when Orton once again connected with Gaffney in the end zone -- and this one counted -- to pull within one score. But Prater's extra point sailed left and the Broncos trailed by eight.

After Kyle McCarthy took down Ted Ginn at the 13-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the defense forced a three-and-out, and the Broncos had another chance with Eddie Royal back deep to receive Andy Lee's punt.

The third-year veteran took advantage of the opportunity, following his blocks for a 78-yard touchdown to pull within two points. But the refs ruled that Jarvis Moss' block was illegal, negating the second Denver touchdown of the day and instead placing the ball at the 19-yard line.

"That's the way the game went, you know?" Royal said. "Sometimes you're going to get calls and sometimes you're going to have them go against you. It wasn't for a lack of effort. Jarvis Moss did everything he could on that play to make a block for me and that's the type of effort you want to see your guys giving for you."

The Broncos still drove to the San Francisco 45-yard line with 45 seconds remaining, but Shawntae Spencer intercepted an Orton pass that sealed the game for San Francisco.

For the second time in three weeks, the team was asked about calls by an official that helped determine the outcome. But Lloyd, who finished the game with 169 yards and a touchdown through the air, wasn't prepared for excuses.

"You can't blame the officials because we put ourselves in those positions," he said. "We're creating those penalties. They're not coming out of nowhere, we're putting the referees in the situation where they have to throw the flag, and they do."

After their fourth straight loss, the Broncos have a bye week up next on the schedule. The team has every intention of taking that time to regroup, get healthy and begin a second-half push in the division. The Broncos have five of their six AFC West games remaining on the schedule.

"Nobody's happy in that locker room," McDaniels said. "Nobody's happy at all, including myself, our staff and our players. And it's not good enough for us, and it's something that we're all going to do everything we can within our power to make it better."