DENVER (AP) — Sure, Peyton Manning said, he’d like to have played more this summer — and better.
He swears he’s not worried.
“I think we can still win games as we’re developing the identity,” Manning said Saturday night when Denver rode its stifling defense and good ground game to a 19-12 win over the sputtering San Francisco 49ers.
Manning was doomed by protection problems and an interception in the end zone one week after penalties and dropped passes kept him from finding any rhythm. He was 14 for 21 for 124 yards and was sacked three times, twice by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Manning isn’t expected to play against Arizona next week, meaning he’ll head into the regular season having directed just two scoring drives — both of them field goals — on 11 preseason possessions.
At least he’ll have two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis and receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hamstring) by then. Mathis signed this week, giving the Broncos’ young offensive line some much-needed experience.
The 39-year-old QB has taken some forced time off this summer, sitting every few days because of his age and to get longtime backup Brock Osweiler some work. GM John Elway says he’ll take a rusty Manning early on over an exhausted one down the stretch, and he predicted the offense will be a “work in progress” for a while.
“Would we like to be a finely tuned machine going into Week 1? Sure,” Manning said. “With some newness, some new players and some different things that we’re doing, that’s what we’re working toward. But the key is for us to improve through the season.”
Juwan Thompson scored the game’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:04 left that erased a 12-11 deficit.
The Broncos (3-0) reached the 20-yard line three times when Manning was in the game, but managed only a pair of Brandon McManus field goals. Cornerback Kenneth Acker intercepted Manning’s underthrown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the end zone.
“You hold the ball for 20 minutes in the first half, you’re over 50 percent on third downs, you think you’d be scoring some points,” lamented Denver coach Gary Kubiak.
Bowman, who missed all of last season after a devastating knee injury in the NFC championship game in January 2014, ditched his knee brace and had nine tackles.
“He had a great look in his eye,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said, and so he played him much longer than planned.
Bowman, who had three tackles in three snaps against the Cowboys last week, was thrilled with the extended work “because I’m going to have to (play more) in about two weeks.”
Colin Kaepernick struggled again, failing to complete a pass until the final minute of the first half, which ended with Denver ahead 8-3. He was just 2 of 6 for 13 yards and scrambled three times for 53 yards.
“We have things to work on,” Kaepernick said. “That’s what our preseason is for.”
DeMarcus Ware sacked Kaepernick in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter, the highlight of another stellar outing by Denver’s starting defense, which has allowed six points in 11 drives.
NEXT MAN UP: Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier has risen through the depth chart not so much because of his stellar play but because Aldon Smith was released three weeks ago after his latest run-in with the law, and Ahmad Brooks was placed on leave Thursday. Lemonier had three tackles and a sack of Manning.
BOLDIN ON BOLDEN: Anquan Boldin was whistled for a 15-yard personal foul for a blindside block on safety Omar Bolden, who was shaken up on the play just before halftime. Denver’s Bolden got the wind knocked out of him, as did starting safety T.J. Ward on another play.
AUSSIE WATCH: Jarryd Hayne, the former Australian rugby league star, had a much quieter day, catching one pass for 18 yards and running twice for 0 yards. He had 258 total yards in two games. But he knew he wasn’t going to get much action against the Broncos. “We knew Game 3, that’s when the starters get their most reps and preparation for (the opener),” Hayden said.
SIDELINE SPECTATOR: Among the players who didn’t suit up Saturday night was tight end Dan Light, whom the Broncos signed Friday. Light is a 6-foot-5, 265-pound tight end from Fordham. His father, Dan, died of ALS two years ago. After signing with the Broncos, he tweeted, “I love you dad. Our dream came true. I am an NFL football player.”