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San Francisco 49ers rally past Denver Broncos in London

San Francisco's Michael Crabtree scores a touchdown at Wembley

NFL highlights - 49ers 24-16 Broncos

By Tim Love
BBC Sport at Wembley Stadium

A fourth-quarter onslaught by San Francisco gave them a 24-16 win over the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium.

A dreary first half saw the 49ers go 3-0 up but Tim Tebow's quarterback sneak gave the Broncos a 7-3 lead.

49ers quarterback Troy Smith came to life in the fourth quarter, running in for a touchdown and completing a 28-yard score to Michael Crabtree.

Frank Gore bundled over the line to extend the lead before Brandon Lloyd's consolation touchdown for the Broncos.

Running back Gore shouldered the burden for the 49ers with 118 yards from 29 carries, while Smith threw 110 of his 196 yards in the exciting final quarter.

Opposite number Kyle Orton threw for an impressive 369 yards but could not complete key plays with the pressure at its highest.

After last season's London contest ended in an easy win for the New England Patriots over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a closer game was expected this year with both teams in desperate need of a win.

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San Francisco gave up a home game to play in London, and they were rewarded with the raucous support of the majority of the 83,941 fans.

After the game, 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer said: "We got to get an NFL team over here. The energy is unbelievable. The fans, the wave, the flags. It really felt like a home game tonight."

In an electric atmosphere, former Destiny's Child singer Michelle Williams sang the US national anthem and guitar legend Jeff Beck played an instrumental version of God Save the Queen.

Distance runner Mo Farah and three-time Olympic sailing gold medallist Ben Ainslie acted as honorary captains for the Broncos and 49ers respectively.

But the biggest pre-game cheers were reserved for Niners legendary wide-receiver Jerry Rice and former Broncos great John Elway as they appeared on the Wembley turf for the coin toss shortly before kick-off.

San Francisco struck first, quarterback Smith - starting an NFL game for the first time since 2007 due to an injury to Alex Smith - leading a seven-and-a-half-minute drive that resulted in a 35-yard field-goal by veteran kicker Joe Nedney shortly before the end of the first quarter.

With the Broncos being booed by the partisan crowd on every possession, Denver's quarterback Kyle Orton - second in the NFL passing rankings with over 2,000 yards already this season - struggled to move his offence up the field despite completing 13 of 16 pass attempts in the first half.

Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree celebrates scoring a touchdown in the second half

In a scoreless and uneventful second-quarter both teams failed to establish any dominance.

The crowd began to get restless as the third quarter got under way and a Mexican wave reverberated around the stadium only five minutes into the second half.

But the fans came to life when Orton completed a 71-yard pass to former 49ers wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to leave the Broncos with an easy scoring opportunity from the one-yard line.

Tebow's sneak gave Denver a 7-3 lead after the conversion, and with influential tight-end Vernon Davis ruled out of the second-half with an ankle injury Smith struggled to provide an aerial threat.

The Niners were playing a very one-dimensional and predictable game, with Gore handed the ball on the majority of plays.

After a promising drive broke down on the Denver 34-yard line, Nedney came within inches of reducing the deficit with a 52-yard field-goal but his kick struck the right post.

They were almost severely punished for the miss at the end of the third quarter.

A flea-flicker play by the Broncos ended with a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney but the play was nullified due to a chop block penalty on running back Knowshon Moreno.

With the Broncos in the ascendency, they extended their lead to 10-3 at the start of the fourth quarter when Matt Prater kicked a 32-yard field goal.

Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders provided extra colour for the Wembley spectators

It looked as though there was no way back for the 49ers with QB Smith struggling badly, but the game shifted momentum in spectacular fashion in the fourth quarter.

A speculative pass to Delanie Walker resulted in an unlikely 38-yard completion and Smith completed the drive with a one-yard run to level the score at 10-10.

The 49ers responded to a rejuvenated crowd and scored again several minutes later after a 28-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Crabtree gave San Francisco a 17-10 lead.

The momentum was now firmly with the team coached by the under-pressure Mike Singletary, and 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson stripped Kyle Orton of the ball deep in Denver territory on the next set of plays.

Takeo Spikes recovered the football and several plays later Gore bundled over for a deserved score.

The Broncos struck back with Lloyd's touchdown but a missed conversion - as Sprater shanked his attempt - left Denver with a mountain to climb with only two minutes remaining.

An interception by Spencer with 39 seconds left effectively ended the game and allowed them to leave London with a morale-boosting victory - just their second of the season.

Denver have now lost four games in a row and lie bottom of the AFC West.

Watch extended highlights on iPlayer


49ers coach Mike Singletary:

"This trip was a tremendous trip. The people here in London are incredible, and the fans obviously love football just as much as we do. The fans made it a great time."

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels:

"The atmosphere in the stadium was awesome.

"I hope the people got what they wanted. It was a very pro-San Francisco crowd and we were fine with that. We wouldn't change a single thing about this trip."



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see also
49ers v Broncos photos
31 Oct 10 |  American Football
NFL in London photos
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NFL touches down for more UK business
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NFL action returns to BBC Radio
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New York to host 2014 Super Bowl
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Bradford joins Rams as top pick
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