Jack Dempsey/APSan Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scrambles against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game

It looks like tough times for 49ers in NFC West

The Denver Broncos are on a mission and the 49ers were the latest victims Sunday night.

The Broncos had a great offensive year last season, but then were embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, as the Seahawks shut down their offense and ran roughshod over their inferior defense.

So in the offseason, the Broncos went into the free-agent market to beef up their defense. Now, it’s nearly as good as their record-setting offense. The 49ers were the latest team to learn that.

I’m not in the habit of making excuses for local teams, but everything was stacked against the Niners on Sunday. They were coming off a short week of practice and were without linebacker Patrick Willis, the latest in a series of crippling injuries.

As if that weren’t enough, they were playing in front of Denver fans who were even higher than the mile-high altitude because they knew they were about to witness history, with quarterback Peyton Manning only two touchdown passes off Brett Favre’s career record 508. As Manning threw for touchdowns that tied and then broke the record, fans posted his career number.

The 49ers didn’t even slow him down. There was still 3:09 left in the first half when Manning broke the record. He had reset it to 510 by the time he left after the third quarter. It will go much higher before the end of the season. No career record is safe any more but if Manning’s career record is ever broken, he will probably be a very old man.

The 49ers had no way of even slowing down Manning. Normally in that situation, an opposing team will try to run the ball, to keep the other team’s offense on the sidelines, but the Broncos are very good at stopping the run. So, the Niners had to rely on quarterback Colin Kaepernick. One day, he might be up to that kind of challenge, but not yet.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals kept winning, beating the Raiders (surprise) to go to 5-1. The Cardinals kept winning even when quarterback Carson Palmer was injured and they were down to their third quarterback at one point.

The Seattle Seahawks have also had their problems, though their loss to the St. Louis Rams came because of trick plays, including a punt return when the Rams coverage went to one side of the field while the punt was going to the other side. The returner had a clear lane to a touchdown.

The bad news for the Niners, though, is that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has really stepped up his game. The Seahawks should fight their way out of their problems and pressure the Cardinals for the division lead.

The 49ers’ chances will improve after the next two games, when they get the suspended Aldon Smith back. That means the return of their pass rush, too. But linebacker NaVorro Bowman, another very important part of the defense, is still out.

Frankly, it doesn’t look good. The NFC West has become probably the strongest division in the league, which may keep the Niners out of the postseason.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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