OAKLAND, Calif. -- Even before the Broncos arrived in the locker room, Sunday night began with a reminder of a rivalry reborn. Fans outfitted in silver and black stood along the team bus’ path in the parking lot, flashing middle finger salutes.
The Raiders reviled in this moment, in this time. This was not just a game for Oakland. It was a chance to regain relevance and take command of the AFC West. Underestimate their anger and motivation at your own risk.
The Broncos showed emotion and passion when running onto the field – one player screamed “Bring on the (bleeping) boos!” – but couldn’t match it when it mattered. The Raiders "outeverythinged" Denver, leaning on a strong running game and a smothering defense to secure an 30 to 20 victory.
It was one night on the road where Denver (6-3) never used to lose. After a 15-game winning streak, however, the Broncos have dropped two straight in visiting division parks. And consecutive games to former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, whose awkward exit after an embarrassing playoff loss left ill will. The stadium rocked with chants of – Raiders! Raiders! – but it was the ground that felt like it shifted. The Broncos control their destiny, but a sixth-straight division title appears at risk.
The Broncos missed Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib, who is expected to remain sidelined an additional game with his back injury to allow for extra healing during the bye week. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr picked on Bradley Roby, the AFC’s reigning defensive player of the week. Roby flailed on multiple tackles, drew a penalty at the goal line and struggled to gain any rhythm. The Broncos missed defensive end Malik Jackson, who bolted for Jacksonville’s top offer in free agency. Denver was never re-signing Jackson at the money he received, but the season-ending knee injury to Vance Walker and lack of contributions from young players is undermining Denver’s rush defense.
The team also missed Derek Wolfe as he exited the game, despite being able to walk off the field on his own. A cart eventually took him away. After the game, Wolfe told Denver7 he has a hairline fracture in his right elbow and will miss some time.
The Broncos allowed 124 yards rushing in first half. They permit 117 per game. A 42-yard gash by Latavius Murray on third-and-1 late in the second quarter proved crippling. The Broncos’ elasticity snapped, as the Raiders (7-2) eschewed a field goal for a touchdown, taking a commanding 20-7 lead with 1:25 remaining in the half.
Denver’s problems begin where they have existed all season: the start. The Broncos can’t stop anybody early. Denver allowed an eight-play, 47-yard drive on Oakland’s first march. It culminated in a field goal, but represented something bigger. Denver’s micro issues – 41 points allowed on first possessions and 16 points scored offensively in the first quarter – have created macro consequences.
Denver is not built to overcome deficits. The offense starts slowly, and continues to fight balance issues when unsuccessful in the first half. At one point, when the Raiders held a 13-0 lead, they had out-gained Denver 146-9. And the Broncos didn’t have a first down, attempting to gain a stranglehold on the division by posting four straight three-and-outs, with no third conversion shorter than 5 yards. Trevor Siemian breathed life into the gasping attack with a “three flies up” 23-yard completion to a leaping Demaryius Thomas. A 36-yard rainbow to Jordan Norwood for a touchdown followed moments later, shaving the deficit to six points. And his 69-yard, fourth-quarter score to Kapri Bibbs on a screen pass left proved a temporary balm on a headache.
But let’s be honest. The Broncos could never grab this game by the nape of the neck. Not with their feet slipping. After a week when the running game was non-existent – coach Gary Kubiak’s words – it was worse against Oakland, which allowed 125 yards per game. The Broncos had 31 yards on the ground through three quarters, and 33 before their last drive. Rookie Devontae Booker was a non-factor, not that he was used much. This goes deeper than one game. The Broncos can’t get where they want to go if the air is the only path. It creates chaos – the defense stays on field too long, the offense becomes predictable, every error is magnified.
The Raiders clinched their biggest regular season win since 2002 midway through the fourth quarter. Khalil Mack pursued Trevor Siemian, punching the ball loose. Mack recovered, leaving Denver with little to do but express frustration with questionable interference penalties and lacking execution. Murray eclipsed 100 yards and punctuated his performance with a third touchdown with six minutes left. As House of Pain’s “Jump Around” played at volume 11, the Broncos looked tired, a night spent getting bullied at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
There was little to glean from this game, only concern to harvest.
Siemian recovered after a terrible start. He completed 1 of 7 passes for four yards in the first quarter. He made enough plays to provide hope, if only briefly. But nobody escapes blame in a game this sour. The Broncos struggled across the board (Bibbs created poor field position with multiple kick returns). They were taunted by Oakland’s punter Marquette King, who rode the pony after a particularly well-placed punt.
The image of the Raiders’ dancing and their fans screaming will be hard to erase. The Broncos had everything in front of them, and couldn’t match Oakland’s performance. As Denver won the Super Bowl last season, What’s Next? brought fascination and intrigue. It now feels like a warning without significant improvement.