DENVER — Ahead of the Broncos' "Sunday Night Football" matchup, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan noted the danger that comes with any battle against Russell Wilson.
"No matter how long you hold Russell and contain him, he always finds ways to make some plays," Shanahan said during a Wednesday call with Denver media. "You hope to limit those, but I can't tell you how many times you go against him and nothing's happening, and all of a sudden they score 21 points like that. That's what you've always got to be careful of."
The Broncos didn't reach the 21-point mark during Sunday's 11-10 win over the 49ers, but Shanahan's comments seemed largely prescient.
After a tough start in which the Broncos managed just 11 yards in their first three drives and went three-and-out eight times, Wilson and the Denver offense responded when it mattered most.
"I thought Russell was just unbelievable," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "When he started running around pockets, whether it collapsed, he stepped up into it instead of going backwards and was able to get some yards rushing. And also at the same time some scramble drills with the players. Hey, when we needed it, he did it. That's what he does."
Trailing 10-5 with 10:14 to play in the game, Wilson guided the Broncos on a 12-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up more than six minutes and gave Denver its go-ahead score.
"We knew that was a great football team," Wilson said. "That's a Super Bowl-caliber football team on the other side. How they play defense, they're coached really well and everything else. We also knew, and I told the guys earlier in the week, I've played these guys a bunch over the years. They're going to win some battles, that's for sure, but it's going to come down to the wire in the fourth quarter. It always has, and we were able to win in the fourth. I told the guys, despite us battling back and forth, back and forth, the game was still close. It was in striking distance. We just kept staying on it."
Four plays keyed the Denver drive, beginning with a 27-yard pass to Kendall Hinton on a third-and-10 from the Broncos' own 33-yard line. Wilson stood in the pocket, worked to his right and then moved to his left to deliver a dart on the run to Hinton, who found his way back toward the ball.
"Really in the fourth quarter, I had to kind of use my legs and take over and just kind of move around and find some first downs," Wilson said. "And then Kendall Hinton [made] that big play. I went left. I guess I can still go left. [I] hit Kendall — that was a big play by him."
Three plays later, on another third down, Wilson scrambled forward on third-and-6 for a 12-yard gain that pushed the Broncos down to the San Francisco 24-yard line. On the next snap, Wilson checked from a run play to a pass and found Sutton for a back-shoulder completion that traveled 19 yards.
"I ended up changing the play to Courtland," Wilson said. "He made a great play on that one-on-one. The line did a tremendous job of battling that whole drive. That's just believing."
Ahead of that drive, the Broncos posted just five plays of more than 10 yards. On the final drive, Denver recorded three such plays — and at least two were the direct result of Wilson's mobility.
Once the Broncos were in the red zone, they shed themselves of their previous woes. After an 0-for-6 start inside the 20-yard line, Denver converted its one opportunity on Sunday night. Melvin Gordon III bounded in off left tackle from one yard out, and the crowd erupted.
"[When] we scored that last touchdown, the place went nuts," Wilson said. "I think the ground was shaking."
For most of Sunday's game, the offense didn't face an easy task — and the results weren't necessarily pretty.
But when it mattered most, the Broncos responded.
"At the end of the day, it's all about finding a way to win," Sutton said. "That fourth-quarter drive, we found a way to get the ball in the end zone, and that's all that matters."