DENVER – The Broncos victory over the Raiders was not dazzling.
It was familiar.
Two seasons ago, the Broncos marched to a Super Bowl title with wins like the one we watched Sunday afternoon. The Broncos trudged to a 16-10 win over the Raiders and they let their arch-rivals stay breathing for far too long.
In other words, the Broncos followed the script of the 2015 season, when they barely won week after week.
The Raiders (2-2) face a tough road to the playoffs. I’m not saying the Raiders are done. I am saying they will struggle to arrive in the postseason.
The Broncos looked mighty two weeks ago against the Cowboys. They have seldom looked mighty since, but they are 3-1 and the road to the playoffs is wide open.
Here are three reasons why the Broncos outlasted the Raiders:
One – A spectacular catch
A.J. Derby’s 22-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter traveled somewhere beyond spectacular. When you watch the replay, be sure to take a close look at Derby’s eyes. He lowers his view to the field almost as soon as the ball touches his right hand.
The Broncos offense never looked so crisp again.
Two – Stone hands by the Raiders
EJ Manuel performed noble work at quarterback after Derek Carr left the game with an injured neck. Manuel, who weighs a hefty 235 pounds, nearly cut the Broncos lead to 16-14 on a smooth drive in the fourth quarter.
If the Raiders had scored a touchdown instead of a field goal, The Front Range might have been a grumpy destination today.
Manuel placed touchdown passes in his Jared Cook's hands twice on the drive. One problem: Cook failed to catch both passes.
Granted, the pass on first down was a tough catch, and Cook almost held on for the touchdown.
Manuel’s third-down throw to Jared Cook was a thing of beauty. Perfect throw, but it bounced - and it really bounced - right off Cook's hands.
Boxer Roberto Duran was known for his “hands of stone.”
Cook deserves the same description.
Three – The Broncos defense
After three quarters, the Raiders had five first downs, 160 net yards and failed on 9-of-10 third downs. The offense revived in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders rush attack never woke up. Oakland finished with only 24 yards on the ground.
In 2015, the Broncos offense was mediocre, but an elite, violent defense carried the franchise to NFL supremacy.
For three quarters, the Broncos defense again looked violent and elite.