Niners strike Wembley gold
Stand-in QB leads to San Francisco to comeback win
By Paul Higham. Last Updated: 01/11/10 12:47pm
Celebration: Troy Smith engineered a comeback for the 49ers
Quarterback Troy Smith led the San Francisco 49ers to a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Denver Broncos 24-16 at Wembley Stadium.
The annual NFL invasion of London took a long time to get going, but when it did it really exploded with a heart-pounding final quarter of action.
Tim Tebow scored a one-yard touchdown with his first touch of the game to put Denver ahead, and a field goal made it 10-3 with 15 minutes left.
The 49ers had never really looked like getting into the game, but back-up quarterback Troy Smith then finally found his feet and he ran in the touchdown himself from a yard inside the final 12 minutes to level the scores.
Michael Crabtree then hauled in a touchdown pass from Smith from 28 yards, and the now rampant Niners found the end zone again through running back Frank Gore with three minutes and 47 seconds on the clock.
Denver came flying back though and Kyle Orton found Brandon Lloyd from a yard, but Matt Prater crucially missed the extra point attempt.
The Broncos still fancied a late comeback, but Orton tried too hard and Shawntae Spencer intercepted him in the final minute to confirm just a second win of the season for Mike Singletary's men.
The 1-6 49ers had Troy Smith making a rare start in place of the injured Alex Smith and, after just 37 yards passing in the first half, it looked like being a long day at their adopted home.
The Wembley crowd just shy of 84,000 had little to shout about for two quarters with only a Prater field goal edging Denver ahead.
With just over eight minutes left in the third quarter the game finally caught light, with Orton hanging out a 71-yard completion to Lloyd to the one-yard line, and rookie quarterback Tebow doing the rest as he muscled his way over to showcase his unique skill set in the NFL.
Denver looked to have gone further ahead when Jabar Gaffney found the end zone on the back of a 38-yard pass from Orton, but as Gaffney headed into the crowd to celebrate the referees where discussing a penalty flag which resulted in the score being ruled out.
It didn't seem to matter with San Francisco offering so little on offence, but Smith eventually found his feet with 11 minutes and 51 seconds left in the game as he first found Delanie Walker at the one-yard line before punching the score in himself.
Crabtree took a fine catch and spun well to evade his tackler and put the Niners ahead with seven minutes and 23 seconds on the clock, with Smith's throw worth 28 yards.
Orton has another good statistical day with 369 yards passing and a score, but he was crucially stripped of the ball by Manny Lawson and the 49ers made him count with Gore burrowing through a ruck of bodies to make it 24-10.
As the game continued to thrill the crowd, there was no let-up in the action as Orton atoned by hitting his favourite target Llloyd (seven catches, 169 yards, TD) for a one-yard score.
Prater's woeful extra point effort sailed well wide and put extra pressure on Orton, who got the ball back again after a strong defensive stand by Josh McDaniels' outfit.
That was only after Eddie Royal had his punt return score ruled out for a block in the back, and although Orton did well his desperation led to Spencer's interception that gave San Francisco a well-overdue second win of the campaign and ended what, eventually, turned out to be a Wembley classic.