DENVER — Just win.
Never apologize for beating the Raiders. Not Sunday, when it was bumpy and disjointed on offense. “We couldn’t find a rhythm,” Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian said. Not in Los Angeles (back in the day), Ughland (now), Las Vegas (in 2019, thankfully) or on the moon. Never, ever, ever.
“I love my Mom,” Bay Area native C.J. Anderson said after Denver just (barely) won, 16-10. “She loves me.”
Neva Craig loves her C.J., all right — as much as she loves her Raiders. And that’s a lot, enough that on Sunday, under the autumn chill at Mile High, Mom wore her Broncos-orange No. 22 jersey — beneath the familiar comfort of a black Raiders jacket. When C.J. got the ball, she cheered like Mom does. When the Raiders got the ball, she did the same. Now that’s true love.
“I knew she was going to do that,” said Anderson, a family man, who once used his first big paycheck to buy a new car for his grandmother, Barbara Gaddies, to replace her A/C-less 1997 Saturn. "She loves her team."
NFL rivalries are different now. Different in that it’s accepted — applauded, even — when Broncos sackmaster Von Miller hosts Raiders sackmaster Khalil Mack for a pass-rushing meeting of the minds in the offseason. That sprung to mind Sunday as Mack said “howdy” to Siemian with a pair of punishing sacks. Sure that's a good idea, Von?
The Broncos never trailed but never buried the Raiders, either. It will be different, too, when the Broncos travel to Ughland for the rematch on Nov. 26. Las Vegas soon will be the Raiders’ home, but Denver lately has owned Oakland. The Broncos are 10-2 against the Raiders since Tebow Time. Over those 12 games the Broncos beat the Raiders by an average of two touchdowns.
The rivalry doesn’t mean as much to the players as it means to the fans. The players are about that business, boss. And it was bad for Shelby Harris’ business when, after two years with the Raiders, he was cut by the Raiders. Now Harris is a 289-pound force for the best run defense in the NFL.
“It felt especially good today,” Harris said afterward in the winning locker room.
The Broncos are 3-1 heading into their bye week. They haven’t been perfect, but they have been promising, and there has been more good than bad. The good: Denver’s work in the running game — on offense and on defense — is the stuff Super Bowl teams are made of. When a team ranks first in rushing 'D' and third in rushing 'O', it's a title threat. Those are the rules.
The bad: the Broncos 'O' is a one-trick pony. The offensive line must be better in pass protection so Siemian makes it through the season. Siemian must be better passing so the Broncos make it to the postseason. The Broncos paid Demaryius Thomas $781,250, according to Spotrac.com, for one catch on Sunday. They paid Emmanuel Sanders $428,125 for four catches. The most talented players on offense must be targeted more than 10 times in a game.
“I just felt like we were always one play away from really getting momentum,” Siemian said.
As I wrote this in the press box at Mile High, boos rained down on Sunday Night Football — boos from the crowd in Seattle, directed at the Seahawks who kneeled for the national anthem. The Broncos stood, the Raiders mostly stood (aside from Marshawn Lynch, who sat on the bench). At kickoff there were more empty seats than I could remember for a Broncos-Raiders game at Mile High. Traffic? Dissent? Protest fatigue? You know better than I.
Football-wise, what Denver is doing on defense, against the run, trumps all else. The “No Fly Zone” ended Sunday's game with an interception by safety Justin Simmons. "No Fly" now has a worthy dance partner — "Ground Control." All-Star tailbacks Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch have 12 Pro Bowls among them. They averaged 1.9 yards per carry vs. the Broncos. For all the hype heaped on the offensive lines from Dallas and Oakland, the Broncos run defense stuffed them like flounder.
“It doesn’t stop here,” Adam Gotsis said.
Sorry, not sorry.
“Who’s next?” Derek Wolfe said. “That’s what I say.”
The Broncos should never, ever apologize for beating the Raiders.