By Chad Jensen
DENVER (247 SPORTS) – The Oakland Raiders didn’t get much respect from Broncos Country in the days leading up to their Week 2 tilt. But fans were quickly reminded that games aren’t won on Friday fire-ups, or in that bold predictions article, they’re won on the grid-iron.
The truth is, the Denver Broncos stole one on Sunday, narrowly defeating the Raiders 20-19. Denver trailed the entire game, until Brandon McManus gave his team the one-point lead (and victory) with six seconds left to play.
Case Keenum was atrocious in the first half, but he turned things around in the second. This win was ugly, but the Broncos proved they can do it the hard way. This game could matter greatly in the grand scheme of things, late in the year as the Division picture resolves.
There were some hard lessons to be learned in Week 2, and fortunately the Broncos are able to study them through the shiny prism of a win.
What are those lessons? Here are five things we learned
Keenum can overcome adversity
It was a horrible start by Case Keenum. He completed 5-of-11 passes for 16 yards in the first half.
The Broncos picked up just one first down under his stewardship. The killer, however, was his interception in the second quarter. With the Broncos trailing by six, Keenum was picked off in the red zone, committing the most inexcusable of cardinal sins for a QB.
It took, at worst, three points off the board, which would have come in handy for the Broncos down the stretch. But, give Keenum some credit.
He battled back in the second half, leading the Broncos on a touchdown-scoring drive on the opening possession of the third quarter. He led Denver to 20 second-half points, and this week, it was enough to get the “W.”
There’s a lot to learn from Keenum’s first-half failures, and I believe the lessons will hit home. He’ll learn what he needs to from his Week 2 foibles, and move on.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 20, Raiders 19
What you’ve got to love is that he battled back, once again, from adversity and didn’t go into a shell. What’s more, Keenum played his best brand of football in the clutch.
That’s what the Broncos need from their quarterback right now, even if it remains to be seen whether he’s truly a “franchise-caliber” player. On that topic, the jury is still out.
Broncos defense far from dominant
This Broncos defense does not appear to be up to the same snuff fans have become accustomed to. To their credit, Joe Woods’ unit kept Denver in the game while Keenum and company were rising falling to the occasion. But when the offense battled back and established some momentum, the Broncos defense couldn’t capitalize and use it as fuel.
Jon Gruden out-coached Woods on Sunday, and the Broncos were out-smarted and out-executed throughout the game. Were it not for the Raiders shooting themselves in the foot in their final true possession of the game, we might be chalking this one up as a loss.
The Broncos simply couldn’t stop Derek Carr and the Raiders on first and second down. Consistently Oakland was able to create favorable third-down situations by picking up plus yardage on first and second down.
After a near-dominant performance in the season opener, it was disappointing to see from Denver. It seemed as if Woods over-corrected in his effort to bracket Raiders TE Jared Cook, leaving WR Amari Cooper negligently wide open on multiple plays to the tune of 10 receptions for 106 yards.
The killer was Denver’s inability to stop the run in the second half. Oakland finished under 100 yards rushing as a team but those 96 yards they picked up were valuable.
Demise of Gruden’s offense greatly exaggerated
19 points aren’t enough to write home about, but the Raiders put up 373 total yards on the vaunted Broncos defense. Oakland was able to establish the run just enough to take pressure off of Derek Carr, and put the Broncos pass rush on it’s heels.
Oakland’s QB was comfortable and confident throughout the game. The Broncos could not put pressure on Carr, finishing with just one sack (Von Miller). Oakland’s offensive line did nothing to diminish their reputation in the Broncos locker room as the best unit in football.
For an offensive system that had heretofore been considered ‘outdated’ and ‘predictable’, it was quite eye-opening. The Raiders mostly dictated offensively, and were it not for some late-game heroics by Case Keenum and Phillip Lindsay, it would have been a winning formula.
It goes to show; don’t sleep on your opponent. These guys get paid, too.
Rookies can come through
You’ve got to hand it to Denver’s rookie class. When the chips have been down, the 2018 rookie have come through.
From Phillip Lindsay averaging 7.6 yards per carry on the way to his first 100-yard rushing game, to Royce Freeman’s badly needed touchdown to break the ice for the Broncos in the third quarter, to Tim Patrick ripping off a 26-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter to put Brandon McManus in range to hit the game-winner, it was a consistent contribution.
Courtland Sutton had what would have been two big plays wiped off the board — one, a reception 40 yards downfield that was ruled out of bounds and two, a touchdown ruled incomplete after a Vance Joseph challenge. Denver’s second-round wideout is on the razor’s edge, this close to breaking games wide open. Give him time.
But really, the difference-maker in Week 2 was Phillip Lindsay. He served as the impetus for Denver’s offensive resurgence in the second half.
Without him, the Broncos don’t storm back and win. As an undrafted rookie, you’ve got to marvel. In two games as a pro, he’s totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage both times. He’s the first undrafted rookie to ever pull that off.
Lindsay has become more than a role player; he’s been a true difference-maker and a bona-fide play-maker for his team.
Demaryius can’t be trusted
Two games might be too small of a sample size to crucify Demaryius Thomas, and I’m certainly not advocating for that. But he’s been bad enough to say with confidence that he can’t be trusted by this Broncos team.
At least, not until he earns it back.
Thomas once again had multiple drops, one of which could have been a dagger for the Broncos were it not for some late-game heroics by Tim Patrick. Thomas dropped a pass with 22 seconds left on Oakland 44-yard line, down by two points.
It wasn’t a perfect pass, but in the clutch, it’s incumbent upon a five-time Pro Bowler to haul it in. With two — nay, three — young wideouts champing at the bit for more reps, the coaches would be wise to take some of Thomas’ reps and disperse them among the backups.
There has to be accountability for dereliction of duty and failure to execute.
Bonus: Coach Joseph shows true grit
If things aren’t going Denver’s way, you can believe that Broncos Country will lay it at the feet of Vance Joseph. After last year’s eight-game losing streak and 5-11 finish, the penchant is understandable.
But Coach Joseph overcame the knee-jerk reactions on Sunday, making two great decisions late in the game. His decision to go for it on fourth down on the goal-line, late in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos trailing by nine points, was gutsy and it paid off.
Aside from narrowing the margin to two points, that touchdown gave Denver some badly needed momentum, and the confidence to grind out the come-from-behind victory in the clutch. It was the type of decision that would have gotten him crucified had Denver not punched it in, and conversely, he deserves the credit for having the confidence and intuition to roll the dice.
Joseph’s second fateful decision to challenge a poor spot-of-the-ball late in the fourth quarter was no small thing, especially after losing a challenge earlier. Joseph won the second challenge, as the refs moved the Raiders back half a yard, forcing them to go for it on fourth down. They did and they converted.
However, Joseph did his part for his team, risking the loss of a timeout by throwing the red flag on the field. When things go sideways, blame Joseph. When his coaching decisions help seal a victory, give credit where it’s due.