LAS VEGAS -- Drew Lock, his ribs sore and head throbbing, stood in the shotgun at breathtaking Allegiant Stadium. The 93-foot tall Al Davis Memorial Torch towered above him on the concourse. The $2 billion palace featured a new car smell, the sound system ripe with noise.
This moment right before halftime offered a chance for a fresh start, not only for Lock, but the much-maligned offense.
At the snap, Lock fell into a bad habit, the type of mechanical and mental misstep that has dissolved an offseason commitment in him into an in-season audition.
Raiders safety Jeff Heath baited Lock. The second-year pro threw off balance and into the middle of the field, which has become a cesspool of broken dreams. Heath knifed in front of Jerry Jeudy for the interception. The turnover came on the first play after a Lock 5-yard touchdown run was negated by Noah Fant's suspect holding penalty against Heath.
This is who the Broncos are, a team with no margin for error with a head coach learning on the job, a quarterback struggling to find comfort in a new offense and a defense compromised by injuries.
The sobering reality is that Denver is not good enough for relevance, Sunday's 37-12 loss the latest reminder.
"It's unacceptable," left guard Dalton Risner said. "I have a lot of emotions right now, but those emotions don't override how we're sticking together. I can promise you we ain't giving up."
The Autumn Wind is a Raider. And the Autumn Win is a stranger to Denver. The Broncos have dropped consecutive games as they stare directly at a fourth consecutive losing season -- that hasn't happened since the drought of 1963-72 -- and a fifth year with no playoffs.
The bigger question concerns Lock, after he finished 23-for-47 for 257 yards, four interceptions and one garbage time touchdown.
"It is very concerning," Fangio said of Lock's play, though noting this was a team-wide failure in the second half. "All of our fingerprints were on it."
The Broncos must decide if Lock is The Man after this season.
Do they need to bring in a veteran to challenge him, to unseat him or turn back to the draft for a longterm solution? Everything feels like it is in play as Lock sits with 10 interceptions and seven picks this season and a 6-6 career record.
Lock needs to improve dramatically to re-establish his status as he ranks last in the NFL in completion percentage. While he is hardly alone in blame for the clumsy execution, his turnovers are glaring. He has regressed under coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Lock's pick to end the half was part of a fabric of errors. He threw four interceptions. Big deal? Well, the Raiders had three picks in their previous 11 games. Lock learned from mistakes last season under former coordinator Rich Scangarello. He has not demonstrated that trait this season, continuing to make ill-advised, off-balance throws into the middle of the field.
A confluence of factors are contributing to his slump. The Broncos have no balance offensively. They finished with 66 yards rushing. And the pass protection remains spotty. Lock hurt his ribs on a blindside, second-quarter smash by Arden Key. A Clelin Ferrell collision into Lock's facemask, which was penalized, left him briefly wobbled.
"They'll have to carry me off the field for me to come off," Lock said.
In a league where teams are spewing lava offensively, the Broncos are challenged. I am convinced after my latest trip to the West Coast that In-N-Out is better than Three-N-Out.
With a chance to regain their balance, the Broncos responded to the Raiders opening the half with a field goal with a 56-second drive. Think on that a minute. Not the response needed.
The Raiders went to work with a methodical drive against a gassed, but competitive defense. The Broncos ran four plays in the fourth quarter, one of many forgettable statistics in Denver's fifth-straight road loss to the Raiders.
The game began with some high-level trolling by the Raiders, and never got better. As the Broncos players jogged onto the field America's "Horse With No Name" played throughout the stadium. It was a sad and lonely, not unlike the Broncos latest start.
Diontae Spencer, returning from a shoulder injury, ran backward on the return as the Raiders swarmed him at the 4-yard line. A penalty pushed the Broncos back to the 2, where they proceeded to go three-and-out, gaining 5 yards with Phillip Lindsay never making an appearance.
The Raiders pride themselves on physicality. And they pushed the Broncos around on their first possession. Hunter Refrow converted a third down on a 25-yard slant, beating A.J. Bouye. And Josh Jacobs put on his mudflaps. He rushed for 19 yards on four carries, punctuating his work with a 11-yard score that was too easy.
With the Broncos defensive line decimated by injuries to Jurrell Casey and Mike Purcell and the COVID-19 absence of Shelby Harris, Jacobs rolled up his sleeves, finishing with 112 yards. The Raiders improved to 5-0 when he rushes at least 20 times.
The Broncos have allowed at least 30 points in four straight games for the first time since the end of the 1968 season.
"We have to figure this (bleep) out," cornerback Bryce Callahan said.
Added linebacker Josey Jewell, "It's really about consistency. We have good stops or a few good drives, but then we don't execute."
Denver took an initial jab to the nose, and punched back. The Broncos passing game found rhythm as Lock connected on three passes, including 14-and-17-yard darts to Tim Patrick and Jeudy. With the run game a rumor, Lock tried uptempo on third down in Raiders territory and narrowly avoid a pick while targeting DaeSean Hamilton in double coverage.
Brandon McManus, aging like a Napa Valley vintage, drained a 50-yarder to shave the deficit to 7-3 with 7:11 remaining in the first. McManus improved to 6-for-7 from at least 50-yards this season.
Early in the second quarter, another coaching question surfaced involving Fangio. The Broncos appeared to stone Jacobs on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 30-yard line. The officials flagged Las Vegas for holding. Fangio never requested a measurement, accepted a holding penalty that cost the Broncos' 28 yards of field position. Not a big deal except when widening the lens and realizing the Broncos' first four drives started on their 7-yard line twice, the 2-yard line and the 26.
After a troubling start, the Broncos' defense held the Raiders to 14 yards over three drives. And they stiffened in the red zone near the end of the half, snuffing out a Raiders drive that included Jacobs' first carry of 20-plus yards this season. Daniel Carlson extended Las Vegas' lead to 10-6, creating a platform for two-minute magic.
The pixie dust ended up in Denver's eyes after Heath intercepted Lock. Heath appeared compromised on the previous play, and sold the holding call with borderline flopping. It worked.
The seven-point swing hung over the Broncos like an anvil.
The Raiders opened the third quarter with a methodical, 12-play, 47-yard trudge. Carlson's second field goal widened the advantage to 13-6 with 9:16 remaining. Denver was ultimately outscored 27-6 in the second half, a performance that Fangio and multiple players labeled as "unacceptable."
The Broncos are 3-6 for the fourth consecutive season. Losing stinks. Not being good enough to play meaningful games in December is even worse.
"It wasn't very good today. And it hasn't been very good the past two weeks," Lock said. "But we can't dwell on it. We have to keep pushing. There's always time (to turn it around) if you have the right mindset."
Broncos receiver Tim Patrick was ejected after throwing punches in a fight with the Raiders Isaiah Johnson. Johnson was also tossed with 13:05 remaining in the game. ...
As a nice alternative, the Broncos' inactive list boasted good news. Right tackle Demar Dotson (groin), conerback Bryce Callahan (ankle) and receiver Jerry Jeudy (shoulder) were not it on it. Dotson was available only in an emergency, leaving Calvin Anderson to make his first career start. He presents the team's fifth right tackle this season if you count Ja'Wuan James, who opted out. The inactive list was as follows: QB Jeff Driskel, right tackle Jake Rodgers, receiver Tyrie Cleveland, linebacker Joe Jones, cornerback Kevin Toliver and guard Netane Muti. ...