By Rich Kurtzman
The Denver Broncos started the game on fire, but it might have been a case of too good, too soon. They scored a touchdown on their first drive and looked a little overconfident afterward, continuing to put up points, but only finishing off drives with field goals throughout the middle of the game instead of TDs. Likewise, the defense was lights-out to begin, forcing a three-and-out and interception on the Raiders’ first two drives before letting Oakland back into the game at 13-7 in the second quarter. A 13-point third quarter basically sealed the deal for Denver, and they won their eighth straight game 26-13 as Oakland lost their sixth straight.
To start off the grading, we have something special. Oakland’s O.Co Coliseum was so bad, so terrible, it begged to be graded and received an F-. The field was terrible, and players fell all over the place all game long. It was a joke considering the speed of the usual NFL game, which was hurt significantly Thursday. Even more laughable, the game had to be stopped in the third quarter as the head referee explained, “There’s a situation, a malfunction of the game clock. We’re going to check it’s ability to function.”
Offense Overall: B
Amazingly, the Broncos ran 25 plays in the first quarter alone, including Manning’s masterful first drive that set the tone of the game. The veteran QB jumped into the no-huddle and jumped all over the Raiders; he connected with Joel Dreessen short, let Knowshon Moreno run twice, hit Eric Decker for 16 on a crucial third and six, and finished it off with a touchdown to Dreessen over the middle for the lead Denver would never surrender. When it was all said and done, Manning had recorded his 70th career 300-yard passing game—310 to be exact—with one touchdown and one interception. The highlight was Moreno, who gained a season-high 119 yards with one score of his own, giving the Broncos a much-needed balance to keep the Raiders honest. Still, they failed to take advantage of opportunities to hang even more points on the board, including getting stuffed on three straight plays twice from the two yardline, which results in their grade of “B.”
Defense Overall: A
Much like the offense, the defense came ready to play Thursday.
After Denver’s first TD, their defense forced a three-and-out, and when the Raiders started driving downfield, Champ Bailey picked off Carson Palmer to steal back the ball and the momentum. They blanked Oakland on the scoreboard for most of the first half, before allowing the Raiders’ longest drive of the year time-wise, at 6:33 seconds, which ended with a touchdown to bring it to 13-7 at half. After the break, Denver’s D forced one punt before Von Miller broke through the line and sacked Palmer, forcing a fumble and giving his team the ball on the one. They caused two more punts before allowing Oakland’s last score, a TD pass from Palmer to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Plus, the Broncos gave up only 52 yards on the ground to McFadden in the remarkable running back’s return from injury.
Special teams: B+
Matt Prater played profoundly, knocking home all four of his field goal attempts—of 43, 34, 20 and 33 yards—while also making both extra point attempts as well. Punt returner Trindon Holliday was a bit off, especially following his first punt return attempt, in which he was hit immediately and dropped the ball. Luckily Tony Carter jumped on the loose football in the first quarter, and Holliday looked for a flag after being hit and pleading that he called for a fair catch. It knocked him off his game and he only had one return, a kickoff, for 33 yards.
John Fox once again had his team to play, and it showed from the onset. Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy should be proud of his gameplan, asking the offense to come out quickly and they did so, gaining the lead quickly and continuing to build on it throughout the game. And defensive head man Jack Del Rio drew up great coverages, allowing his pass-rushing specialists to do what they do best and put pressure on Palmer while the DBs covered their men well.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.