DENVER -- It won’t be just the one that got away, it will be the one that left a mark for the Denver Broncos. In a game where they held the Oakland Raiders to minus-12 yards offense in the first half, the Broncos couldn’t slam the door.
The Broncos didn’t score in the second half, didn’t score a touchdown in the game and allowed their mistakes to help seal a 15-12 Raiders victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The numbers will lie in this one as the Raiders didn’t reach positive yardage until the team’s first possession of the second half; they had 87 yards of offense by the end of the third quarter.
Denver couldn't finish any of their first-half scoring drives, they had rushed for just 30 yards by the end of the third quarter, and their biggest second-half mistakes -- a muffed punt at their own 12-yard line, a Brock Osweiler fumble recovered by Max Garcia in the end zone for a safety, a missed field goal and dropped passes in the fourth quarter by Demaryius Thomas as well as Venon Davis -- were just enough for the Raiders.
The Broncos, now 10-3, are still in the conversation for home-field advantage in the AFC, but with an injury report coach Gary Kubiak said was unlike any other he had seen, the Broncos are not trending in the right direction.
Their defense has bailed the Broncos out time after time, week after week, this season. But Sunday, finally, the Broncos’ trouble spots were too big even for Denver’s defense to overcome.
What were they thinking? The Broncos had back-to-back issues in the return game that allowed the Raiders to take a 15-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. First, the Broncos put Shiloh Keo, a Broncos player for less than a week, back to return a punt late in the third quarter, deep in the Broncos’ territory. He let the ball bounce and it went out at the Broncos’ 2–yard line. The next time the Raiders punted, this time to Emmanuel Sanders deep in Broncos’ territory, Sanders muffed the punt and the Raiders recovered at the Broncos’ 11-yard line. The Raiders turned that into a touchdown three plays later.
One reason to get excited: To hold an NFL team to negative yardage is a rare feat and the Broncos’ defense continues to flex its title-worthy muscle. The unit held the Raiders to minus-12 yards in the first half, a total that included minus-17 yards passing, and by the end of the third quarter the Raiders still had not topped 100 yards. The Raiders’ lone touchdown drive was a result of Oakland taking advantage of Sanders' muffed punt to start the drive on the Denver 11-yard line.
One reason to panic: The Broncos could not carve out any legitimate room in the run game against a defense at the middle of the pack in the league's ranking. Osweiler was also under increased pressure as the game wore on, including when he was sacked in the end zone and fumbled for a safety with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Fantasy watch: His dropped pass in the fourth quarter not withstanding, tight end Vernon Davis, who suffered a concussion in the win over the San Diego Chargers and was limited some in practice as he moved through the concussion protocol, continues to see his role expand. He had seven catches for 74 yards Sunday. The Broncos want the two-tight-end look to be the base formation on offense and Davis’ acquisition moves them in that direction.
Ouch: The Broncos had a long list of injuries coming into the game -- three safeties were among their game-day inactives -- but wide receiver Demaryius Thomas went to the sideline with a left shoulder injury in the first half. He did return, but it appeared to be an injury that could become a concern. Kubiak said following the game safety Darian Stewart, wide receiver Cody Latimer and linebacker Lerentee McCray would all be evaluated Monday for hamstring injuries. Linebacker Von Miller also had trainers stretch his hamstring at one point in the second half.