A 24-yard field goal by Rich Karlis with 1:27 left brought Denver a 17-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers tonight and gave the Broncos sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

San Francisco suffered poor field position early in the game. Following a shanked one-yard punt by Max Runager and a subsequent sack of Montana by Denver safety Dennis Smith, the Broncos needed to drive only 37 yards for the game's first touchdown.

Elway's third-down, 13-yard pass to Steve Watson highlighted the eight-play march, and Elway, sprinting to his right, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to running back Gene Lang. It was Elway's first touchdown pass in five games.

Montana was sacked again on the 49ers' next series. But several minutes later, after a change of possession, Ron Ferrari partially blocked a punt by Denver's Chris Norman. The punt went only 15 yards, giving the 49ers possession at the Broncos' 40.

Montana completed a 14-yard pass to tight end John Frank, but the Broncos held. On the first play of the second quarter, Ray Wersching kicked a 26-yard field goal to draw the 49ers within 7-3.

With 10 minutes left in the half, Elway hooked up with rookie speedster Vance Johnson for a 50-yard gain on a flea-flicker play. Three plays later, Watson reached high over cornerback Tory Nixon and caught a six-yard scoring pass from Elway as the Broncos went ahead, 14-3.

With time running out in the half, the 49ers drove to the Denver two. San Francisco attempted a short field goal on fourth down, but holder Matt Cavanaugh couldn't handle the snap and his desperation pass fell incomplete, allowing Denver to maintain its 14-3 lead at the half.

Less than five minutes into the second half, the 49ers scored. Montana started the drive with a 44-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Wilson and completed it with a 13-yard pass to Wilson as San Francisco got within 14-10.