OAKLAND, Calif. — Early in the second quarter, Roger Goodell took a lap around the tattered football/baseball field at O.co Coliseum.
The Commish is popular.
He stopped to shake hands with a Raiders fan wearing a metal-looking Mohawk.
The Commish is no dummy.
Rule No. 1: Be nice to men wearing metal Mohawks.
Rule No. 2: Be nice to anyone who paid to watch the Raiders.
I saw the Chargers. Bad.
I saw the Chiefs. Bad.
Then I saw the Raiders. The worst.
Denver dominated, again, and is battering the AFC West. Thursday's final wasn't as close as indicated by the score — Broncos 26, Raiders 13. The division race is as close as indicated by the standings — Broncos a lot (10-3), the rest a little (9-28).
In a rivalry game, “Throw the Raiders — I mean, the records — out the window,” said Broncos tight end Joel Dreesen in a classic Freudian slip.
The locals threw the Raiders out, too, with boos in the first, third and fourth quarters.
By their standards, which have been readjusted with the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos were far from their best. Denver ventured into the red zone six times and managed two touchdowns.
Denver could venture into the Black Hole six times and manage six wins. Or Arrowhead, or Qualcomm. The Broncos don’t need their "A" game to beat their "AFC" rivals.
What has happened to the AFC West? It isn’t solely the arrival of Manning, who passed for more than 300 yards (310) for the seventh time this season.
Kansas City’s 2-10. San Diego’s 4-8. Oakland’s 3-10 and, midway through the fourth quarter, had more penalties (11) than points (7).
The Broncos are still looking for that perfect game where Manning doesn’t head to the sideline with a scowl. The No. 2 seed in the AFC tournament — and a first-round bye — is entirely in play.
“We can’t concentrate on that,” said Champ Bailey, whose interception forced the Raiders faithful to boo their own team for the first time.
“I think guys are tired,” said Manning, and the Broncos have nine days to prepare for a real playoff test — outside the AFC West. Denver plays at Baltimore the next time out.
And it’s entirely possible the rest of the division is fighting for a spot in line at the coaching carousel. Norv Turner, Romeo Crennel and Dennis Allen are on the hot seat.
John Fox, who is perfect for these Broncos and perfect in AFC West titles (2-for-2), is in the catbird seat.
The Chargers will fire Turner, the San Diego Tribune reported Thursday. There is a Facebook page, created by Chiefs fans, dedicated to the firing of Crennel. And Raiders owner Mark Davis reportedly said he told Allen: “It’s not good enough.”
Denver is a mile high and miles ahead of its division rivals. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the AFC West is beginning to look a lot like the AFC East.
“Any time you go on the road and get a win against a division rival, you’re pleased,” Fox said.
Fox’s team has won eight straight games, its longest streak in 14 years, and is 5-0 against the AFC West. The average margin of victory in those tough-to-win divisional games is two touchdowns.
“Extremely frustrating” is how Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer described it.
Raiders do funny things. They return kickoffs to the 8-yard line. They body slam Demaryius Thomas; then argue the penalty. They wear metal Mohawks.
A pair of Broncos fans ventured into the Black Hole with extra-bright orange jerseys: No. 24 (Bailey) and No. 87 (Eric Decker). They reveled in victory and taunted the locals.
The hosts had no response.
On a crisp, gorgeous Bay Area night in December, the Broncos inched closer to a sweep of the AFC West with a sweep of the Raiders.
The man with the metal Mohawk had no response.
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