Oakland Raiders defense, special teams come up big in win


The Oakland Raiders defense and special teams came up big in their win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

At halftime on Sunday, it looked to many of us as if the Raiders were going to lose another division game and fall to 5-8 after starting the year 4-3. The Raiders offense had managed negative 12 yards as Derek Carr had completed only two of nine pass attempts and been sacked twice. The only saving grace for the Raiders was that they had not allowed a touchdown by the Broncos, giving up four field goal drives as the offense floundered. Still, with the offense doing absolutely nothing against one of the best defenses in the league, that 12-0 deficit seemed insurmountable.

The Raiders’ “bend but don’t break” defense of the first half would indeed turn out to be the difference for the Raiders, who scored 15 unanswered points to win in one of the most beautiful ugly games of the 2015 season. Twice in the first half, the Broncos had moved the ball into goal-to-go situations, and twice they were denied. The Broncos had run 15 offensive plays inside the Raiders’ 20 yard line, but couldn’t manage to punch it in.

But while the Raiders defense had done enough to keep the Broncos’ lead manageable in the first half, it would need to do more in the second half to allow the Raiders to close the gap. With the Broncos run game completely stifled, Gary Kubiak decided to let his young quarterback keep throwing the ball, something that would cost them dearly.

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  • Khalil Mack had all five of his sacks in the second half, including a 3rd down drive killer on the Broncos’ first possession of the second half, a strip sack that resulted in a safety that closed the Broncos’ lead to 12-9, and then a sack on three consecutive Bronco possessions that altered drives. On the only Broncos’ possession of the half in which Mack did NOT log a sack, Ben Heeney forced a fumble that Charles Woodson recovered.

    But the Raiders offense, after finding the end zone coming out of the half, was mired down again by the stellar Bronco defense. Despite a series of gifts from the defense – good field position, a fumble, a safety – the Raider offense was forced to punt on four consecutive possessions. Enter Marquette King, he of the high hang time, who managed to give the Broncos worse field position with every punt. His first punt of the half sailed 55 yards to the Broncos 15 before it was returned to the 24. His second pinned the Broncos at their 11. His third pinned them back at their own 2 yard line, setting up Khalil Mack’s strip sack end the end zone that led to the safety.

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    King’s fourth punt was another boomer, sailing 55 yards down the the Bronco 15-yard line, where Emmanuel Sanders muffed it. The high, hanging punt had allowed the Raider coverage unit to close in on Sanders and long-snapper Jon Condo fell on the football, hurting his arm in the process, but giving the Raider offense the ball at the Broncos’ 11-yard line. Three plays later, Derek Carr would connect with Mychal Rivera for the winning touchdown.

    King would punt two more times in the game, pinning the Broncos at their 15 and at their 8, respectively, and the Raiders defense would hold on for the win behind Khalil Mack’s pass rush. Derek Carr had a pretty subpar outing – completed only 12 of 29 passes for 135 yards – and the running game went nowhere (1.2 yard per carry average as a team), but the Raiders managed to out-Bronco the Broncos, relying on unbelievable defensive play and some strong punting to turn the tide and get the win.

    While the Raider offense will likely not have very many more outings like Sunday, it’s encouraging to know that the team can win when they do, and on the road against a playoff team no less. This team is likely going to miss the playoffs again, and may not do better than 8-8, but Sunday’s win was a game-changer for the upstart Raiders and their young core as they build toward a team that can win a lot for a long time starting very soon.