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4 winners and 2 losers from the 49ers win over the Broncos

You can point the arrow up for quarterbacks Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, and Trey Lance after Saturday night’s victory

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The curse of Russell Wilson has been exercised as the 49ers defeated the Denver Broncos 21-20 to pick up their first win of the preseason.

The win was headlined by Brock Purdy making his first appearance in a game since injuring his elbow in the NFC Championship. He only played one drive, completing 4-of-5 passes for 65 yards, including a 25-yard catch-and-run to Deebo Samuel and a 15-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk. It was the first glimpse of the starters in 2023, another sign that football is back.

The starters didn’t play enough to earn a spot on the winners and losers, but with plenty of position battles yet to be decided, Saturday night was another chance to make an impression. These are the four winners and two losers from the win on Saturday night:

Winner: WR Ronnie Bell

Bell must be considered a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster. The rookie wide receiver followed his strong performance last week with a seven-reception, 114-yard game on Saturday, leading all receivers in both categories.

Five of his seven catches and 77 of his 114 yards came in the fourth quarter when Trey Lance entered the game, including a 43-yard catch-and-run with less than two minutes remaining to set up the 49ers’ game-winning field goal.

Loser: the offensive line

The group was improved from last week – allowing just three sacks on Saturday compared to four against Las Vegas – but this week’s problem was the penalties.

Five of the nine penalties against the 49ers were against the offensive line. Nick Zakelj led the way with a false start and a holding, with Jon Feliciano, Joey Fisher, and Jason Poe also called for holding. Again, the problems didn’t come from any projected Week 1 starters, but the depth doesn’t instill confidence.

Winner: QB Trey Lance

The start wasn’t pretty, but the finish should catapult Lance over Sam Darnold on the depth chart.

Lance didn’t take his first snap until the 1:22 mark in the third quarter, with Brock Purdy playing the 49ers’ first drive and Darnold taking every drive after until late in the third. His first two drives weren’t good, ending his first drive with a pass that was tipped at the line and intercepted by Denver before going 2-for-5 on his second drive, which resulted in a field goal.

Then Lance locked in. In his final two drives, he completed eight of his last ten passes with a touchdown pass to Cameron Latu and the aforementioned 43-yard completion to Bell, which ultimately sealed the game.

It was a vast improvement for Lance from last week and a performance that created more questions for the backup quarterback spot than were answered.

Winner: K Jake Moody

The missed PAT was bad, but Moody followed his 0-for-2 performance last week with a 3-for-3 game, including the game-winning kick as time expired. Maybe the most significant vote of confidence Moody saw on Saturday was that Zane Gonzalez did not get an attempt again, even with Moody’s two misses last week.

Saturday might have been the final chapter in a one-sided competition at kicker.

Loser: special teams

We can lump Moody’s missed PAT into this category, but what an unflattering night for the special teams unit.

The usually reliable Mitch Wishnowsky had three punts that went a combined 95 yards with a long of 35 yards.

D’Shawn Jamison, after a promising performance last week, had two punt returns go for zero yards and a muffed punt that Denver recovered that one play later turned into a Broncos’ touchdown.

And the kickoff unit allowed a 44-yard return from Jaleel McLaughlin that Denver cashed in for a touchdown two plays later.

Winner: CB Samuel Womack

An overall solid night from No. 0 as the competition for the second cornerback spot between Womack and Ambry Thomas is heating up. Womack was credited with two pass breakups and a near interception on Saturday and looked the part when he was targeted. Ambry Thomas also played well but did have a blown coverage that almost resulted in a Denver score had Ji’Ayir Brown not made a touchdown-saving tackle near the end of the first half.

Deommodore Lenoir looks like he’s going to slide to nickel and Womack’s performance on Saturday might have given him the edge.