SAN FRANCISCO --It didn't take long for the Broncos defense to flash its potential. In fact, it took about a quarter-and-a-half.
With the 49ers facing a second-and-1 at their own 14-yard line in the second quarter, linebacker Nate Irving sprinted into the backfield, leveling running back D.J. Harper to force a fumble. Fellow linebacker Shaun Phillips picked up the ball at the 9-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown.
It was the first of four takeaways for the Broncos, three of which came in the first half.
"We'd love to get four every game," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We really pride ourselves on getting our hands on the ball. When we had opportunities tonight, we made the most of them. That's really what we've got to keep up."
The second San Francisco turnover came courtesy of safety Duke Ihenacho, who led the team with seven tackles in the first half, including one for a loss. In his first NFL start, Ihenacho popped the ball out of the hands of wide receiver A.J. Jenkins' hands just two plays after Phillips' defensive score, and fellow safety Rahim Moore came away with the recovery.
Just after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, safety Mike Adams intercepted 49ers quarterback Colt McCoy to put the Broncos plus-three in the turnover category.
On San Francisco's first drive of the second half, it was rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster's turn to get in on the action.
"It was in Cover-4," Webster recalled after the game. "My receiver, he went in motion and came up the field and did a curl route. I sat on it and when he threw the ball, I just broke, I dove for it and I caught it. The rest is history."
From the sideline, quarterback Peyton Manning liked what he saw.
"We created a lot of turnovers last year. It was another good start from that standpoint tonight," he said. "Different guys, some young players – Nate Irving making a huge play and Phillips running it back for a touchdown. Webster making some nice plays. As an offense, you always like to see your defense out there creating turnovers because usually that's going to mean really good field position."
Four takeaways aside, the defense also showed an ability to hold strong when it counted, as it did when the unit halted San Francisco's promising opening drive.
The 49ers had a first-and-10 at the Denver 20-yard line, but a tackle for no gain by linebacker Stewart Bradley, a false-start penalty and a stop in the backfield for a loss of a yard by linebacker Wesley Woodyard put the Broncos' opponent in third-and-16. Though quarterback Colin Kaepernick found wide receiver Marlon Moore for 12 yards, it wasn't enough for the first down and the 49ers had to settle for a 32-yard field goal.
San Francisco managed just one other field goal in the fourth quarter of the Broncos' 10-6 victory.
"I think it was a good start," Bailey said. "Our young guys really stepped up throughout the second half and got the win for us."