DENVER • There were so many mistakes, but the Broncos had to feel everything was going to turn out fine. It was first-and-goal at the 2-yard line and if they scored a touchdown they would have taken a 10-point lead.
That didn’t work. No big deal. Denver got the ball back up six points with 3:59 left and could run out the clock. Or, after failing to pick up even one first down, stop Oakland after it faced a second-and-23. Or on fourth-and-10.
None of it happened, and 4-9 Oakland drove down the field behind JaMarcus Russell, who was bypassed on the depth chart by Charlie Frye earlier in the week. Russell relieved an injured Frye in the fourth quarter and led Oakland on the winning drive, hitting Chaz Schilens for a 10-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to stun the Broncos 20-19 at Invesco Field at Mile High.
“That’s what’s so frustrating: missed opportunities,” defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.
Like the San Francisco loss in 2006 and the Buffalo loss last year, this late-season loss to a huge underdog will sting for a long time if the Broncos miss the playoffs.
The Broncos are 8-6, and two more wins would clinch a playoff berth. The Broncos and Ravens are the only second-place teams in the AFC with eight wins. But if Denver stumbles at Philadelphia this week or against the Chiefs in the season finale, there are eight wild-card contenders that can finish 9-7 or better. And the Broncos didn’t do themselves any tiebreaker favors by losing a conference game to the Raiders.
“We’ve put ourselves in this predicament, so we’ve got to get ourselves out of it,” quarterback Kyle Orton said.
Reviewing Sunday’s game won’t be enjoyable. Frye had thrown 33 passes since 2006, but was tabbed to start over Russell.
The Broncos knew the Raiders would rely on the run, yet allowed 241 rushing yards and 7.1 yards per attempt.
“You’ve got to know that’s got to be part of their game plan, to make it easy on their quarterback,” Holliday said. “We didn’t step up and answer the challenge.”
The Broncos, who were missing injured backup tailback Correll Buckhalter, had only 80 yards against a run defense that ranked 30th in the NFL before Sunday. Knowshon Moreno averaged 2.2 yards per attempt on 19 carries.
The Broncos scored only one touchdown in four trips inside Oakland’s 20-yard line. The Broncos could have led 10-0 or 14-0 in the first quarter, but kept the Raiders in the game by failing twice in the first quarter to score a short touchdown. Settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown after Brandon Stokley’s 63-yard reception gave the Raiders a chance to win late.
The Raiders got a first down on second-and-23 when cornerback Andre Goodman was called for a pass interference penalty. Then Russell hit tight end Tony Stewart for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and-10. Later in the drive, Schilens beat rookie cornerback Alphonso Smith for the game-winning touchdown.
“We put ourselves in a situation where we’ve got to win two games and see what happens,” coach Josh McDaniels said.
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