DENVER -- It isn’t exactly how the Denver Broncos would draw it up, but they now head into an early bye at 3-1 and having flashed enough of their power to assert themselves in what figures to be a fierce AFC West race.
The Broncos pounded out a 16-10 win over the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High that wasn't really decided until safety Justin Simmons pulled down an interception with just under two minutes to play. And now they get perhaps the only week off the team might not want.
The last time the Broncos had a bye this early on the football calendar was in 2014, when the Broncos had a Week 4 bye. That team, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, went 10-3 after the bye but ran out of steam in the postseason. But that’s a problem for another day. These Broncos will take a quality first quarter of the season, having held serve with all three of their wins at home.
Still, a Week 5 bye means there are a pile of weeks left to play when the team returns. The Broncos will go all the way to a Week 15 appearance on a Thursday night in December before they can carve out an “extra" day off.
It’s why what went on in downtown Denver on Sunday afternoon -- their second division win to go with the opening-week victory over the Los Angeles Chargers -- carried some additional weight, why it rose above just-another-game status.
The Broncos used a first-quarter ambush, when they had 140 yards worth of offense and scored 10 points, to put themselves in the hands of their defense once again. Quarterback Trevor Siemian was 7-of-9 passing in that opening quarter for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown, a one-handed snare and run by tight end A.J. Derby, finished off a drive in which the Broncos again showed that if they protect Siemian, he can keep the offense moving using a variety of receivers. The Broncos also later kicked in a power-run game to snap themselves out of some significant second-quarter doldrums, including a 40-yard run by C.J. Anderson on a play in which the Broncos had six offensive linemen in the game to go with two tight ends.
And the defense, save for a bobble in coverage that allowed Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to find wide receiver Johnny Holton for a 64-yard touchdown, did what the Broncos have become accustomed to their defense doing. The Raiders had just 24 yards rushing; Marshawn Lynch was held to 12 yards on his nine carries. The Broncos have now muted Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Lynch in their opening four weeks.
Carr left the game late in the third quarter with a back injury, which left EJ Manuel to try his luck. It all kept the Broncos from what would have been an ugly 2-2 start after last week’s loss.
However, the Broncos have shown they don't slam the door enough when they have the chance -- in two of their wins, they allowed a double-digit lead to become a one-possession game, including on Sunday. Siemian gets hit too often (he was sacked four times) and has to leave the pocket too often against four-man pressures. Brandon McManus missed his third field goal of the season, and the Broncos still have moments when the offense can’t seem to decide on the pace it wants, when despite all of the good they’ve done in a game their opponent still feels there is a chance at the end.
Those all go on the agenda for the coming weeks. But the Broncos had better get their rest, because it will be a long time before they get a chance to take another breath.