The game certainly had the potential to be a major mismatch as the 9 win and 3 loss Denver Broncos traveled to Oakland to play the 3 win and 9 loss Raiders at O.co Coliseum in the NFL Thursday night game.
The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West title with a full five game lead over the San Diego Chargers, but they had the potential to jump into the second seed in the playoff and earn home field advantage against a majority of their opponents. Oakland had a goal of keeping things close and hopefully pull off an upset behind the return of running back Darren McFadden after injury. Oakland kept things close, but they couldn’t overcome their offensive woes in a 26 to 13 loss to the Broncos.
For Denver, it was another stellar night for starting quarterback Peyton Manning statistically, as he threw for over 300 yards for the 70th time in his long career while also becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to achieve 5,000 career completions.
The Broncos did get a huge contribution from their running attack and four field goals from Matt Prater, but they did have a few struggles in earning their eight win in a row after their week 5 loss to New England. The Broncos have a half game lead over New England and Baltimore going into this weekend’s games, and it sets up an interesting battle as the Broncos travel to face the Ravens in week 15 which could very well determine playoff seeding.
While McFadden’s inclusion was a welcome addition to the Raiders offense that has been looking to achieve some balance in their attack, but instead the team appeared very distracted for most of the game. Their attention could have been distracted by the events from earlier this week when Raiders Coach Dennis Allen lost his father, Grady, as he suffered sudden cardiac arrest and passed away. Allen was with his family for a few days to be with his family, but was able to make it back to Oakland in time for the game. However, the Raiders couldn’t rally for their head coach and former defensive coordinator for the Broncos and they were swept in the division series for the first time since 2006.
Looking back at my three bold predictions for this match up, I was actually pretty accurate on some respects especially in terms of the running backs and tight end battle. Along with that, I did learn these five things from the proceedings:
1. While Oakland’s offense wasn’t able to get on track for most of the game, the Raider defense actually played really well and kept them in the game.
The Raiders gave up a touchdown on the Broncos’ first drive of the game, and after a quick three and out by the offense, Denver was driving again and it looked like Oakland was going to get run out of the stadium. However, the Oakland defense held the Broncos to two field goals after long drives before the Raider offense put forth their only sustained drive of the night. The third quarter saw the Broncos drive for two more field goals although on one drive, the Broncos failed to convert the touchdown while on the 1 yard line. Their only other touchdown was after a Carson Palmer fumble that they converted into a Knowshon Moreno touchdown run from one yard.
Considering the great field position and opportunities, the Broncos should have scored more than just two touchdowns, but the Raider defense made some great plays when they needed to, plus sacked Manning three times and intercepted him once. At least on that side of the ball, the Raiders showed some fight.
2. Denver has been looking for a replacement for Willis McGahee and they look like they’ve found him in Knowshon Moreno.
McGahee’s injury versus San Diego in week 11 threatened to derail the Broncos offense, forcing them to rely more on Manning and the passing game. While that has been the case in some games, the Broncos are at their best when they have a viable running threat to compliment Manning. They’ve been waiting for either Moreno or Ronnie Hillman to fill that role of feature back, and most experts figured it would be Hillman to become that guy.
However, Moreno has been the starter since week 12 and provided some needed yardage from time to time. Versus Oakland, the back from the University of Georgia ran with conviction and power in tallying up 119 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown and 4 catches for 48 yards. It was a career high in carries with 32 as well, and Moreno looked as fresh in the fourth quarter as he did at the start, which is the sign of a back that has confidence on their side. Denver needs that threat, and it appears Moreno has become the workhorse the offense needs.
3. While Denver scored 26 points on the day, it should have been more but the offense failed to convert in some key situations.
The Broncos first drive of the second half was pretty impressive with its mix of runs and passes, and it appeared that they were destined for a long field goal attempt by Matt Prater until a 23 yard pass interference penalty on Matt Giordano that put the Broncos on their own one yard line. The Broncos failed to convert a pass on first down, Moreno was dropped for a yard loss on second down, and they had an incomplete pass on third down, so Prater came on for a 20 yard field goal.
Denver had a chance to essentially put the Raiders down 20 to 7, but they couldn’t convert on a short yardage play. They did get a gift later in the game after a fumble at the one yard line that Moreno was able to put in for a touchdown, but if the Broncos want to be a threat for the Super Bowl, they need to take advantage of their field position.
4. The offensive woes did help one player out of a bit of slump, as Prater was perfect on the night.
Prater has missed at least one field goal in his last five games, including a one of three conversion rate against Kansas City that helped the Chiefs stay close all game. Prater had four chances against Oakland, and hit all four of them with quality efforts that were in the middle of the goal. While Prater has suffered through periods of misses, he’s usually able to rebound and regain his form. The game against Oakland was that rejuvenating effort that should give the coaching staff confidence that their kicker can make from any reasonable distance in any condition.
5. Oakland’s offense had their chances to keep them close in this game, but they weren’t helped with several unfortunate drops by their receivers.
Oakland did have two impressive drives for touchdowns: one in the second quarter after Denver had threatened to blow the game wide open in going up 13 to 0 to keep them close before the half, and a late touchdown pass to Darrius Hayward-Bay in the fourth quarter that pulled them to within 13 points. Otherwise, the offense shot themselves in the foot with key drops of passes where Palmer made a quality throw, but the receiver couldn’t pull the pass in. It’s too bad, because while the Bronco defense did play reasonably well, there were opportunities for Oakland to move the ball. If they keep up this effort, Oakland could be a threat for an upset in the season’s final weeks.