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Slow start but no panic leads Broncos to eventual romp over Raiders

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Until minutes before the half, the Denver Broncos looked embarrassingly pedestrian - even downright awful - on offense, but an interception by a rookie and stellar play by a third-string running back snapped the Broncos back into form before routing their AFC West foe, 41-17.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the second play of the first drive is an interception, and the next hour-and-a-half yields an excruciatingly low six points compared to your much lesser opponent's 10, the game narrative has all the makings of a very painful defeat.

Thankfully, narratives aren't written before the game is over.

Well, not if you're one of the Broncos.

Following last week's depressing loss in New England, losing to the 0-8 Raiders could have put this playoff-bound team into a tailspin for the rest of the season (or at least its fans).

But despite a rough first 27 minutes, the Broncos got a spark that carried them the rest of the game.

Enter C.J. Anderson?

Not yet.

Thank Bradley Roby first for keeping you from going absolutely ballistic at halftime. It was Roby's interception that, in my opinion, was the true catalyst to a renewed offense just before the half (either that, or me changing from a white to an orange No. 18 jersey, not that I'm superstitious or anything...so I'm giving credit to Roby).

After the Broncos' No. 1 draft pick grabbed a pass intended for Mychal Rivera with just over three minutes left in the half, the Broncos took 37 seconds and three plays to score a touchdown, thanks to a fabulous 51-yard play by C.J. Anderson to get into the end zone.

Most of the narratives credit Anderson with the game turn-around, and he certainly deserves massive kudos for his ballin'. That boy came to play.

"Yeah that was as fine a play as I've seen so far this season, I have to tell you," Peyton Manning said of that first Broncos touchdown that put the Broncos up 13-10.

Manning, who thought he was going to be sacked on the play, tossed it Anderson's way, and the running back took off like he had fire in his cleats, breaking tackles and making cuts until he danced across the end zone.

It easily could have been maybe a catch for minus two yards. I don't know how many guys he made miss, but it was just an effort play on his part. That really gave us a spark. -Peyton Manning on C.J. Anderson's touchdown.

"Peyton looked at me, obviously he was in trouble, because I didn't even get a chance to finish my route," Anderson recalled on the play. "And next thing you know he threw it, and I caught it, and when I bumped two tackles, I thought I had a chance for the first down. But when I saw D.T. and Wes screaming down the field, I was like, cut back. The rest was in the end zone."

And then the fire was on the sideline.

"It easily could have been maybe a catch for minus two yards or something," Manning noted. "I don't know how many guys he made miss, but it was just an effort play on his part. That really gave us a spark offensively and of course the whole sideline was fired up."

The whole sideline, including Roby, recognized what a heads-up play the guy listed as third on the RB depth chart provided.

"Yeah, C.J. played a great game today," Roby said. "That one touchdown he had was like third down, and [Manning] just dumped it off to him and he made a big play. That's what we like to have out of the offense, and it's good for him because it's his hometown, so that probably added a bit to it, too."

Anderson said he loves playing road games anyway, but having a big game back in his home territory was sweet.

"I love playing at home. I love road games and then I love playing at home.  So it's like, I got my ice cream and my cake at the same time. I feel good about that," Anderson said.

Whether Anderson was showing off for a bit of a hometown crowd or not, his final stats were impressive - 90 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving. Those 163 total yards also put him in some very good running back company for the Broncos, joining Floyd Little, Otis Armstrong and Terrell Davis for RBs with at least 70 yards rushing and 70 yards receiving in a single game.

Wes Welker, who was running a route on the other side of the field, believes it was just what the Broncos needed.

"I think we did kind of need a spark, a big play," said Welker, who had four catches for 24 yards on the day. "C.J. broke about three tackles and I was like, ‘Oh, we're going to get the first down.' And then all of a sudden he started turning up and crossing the field - it was a great play. It was just what we needed at the time."

Demaryius Thomas - who had another solid game in a very subtle way with 108 yards receiving, his sixth consecutive 100-yard game - pointed out that Anderson has told the team he's "not going to run 80 yards" but he'll definitely "run somebody over."

"But he went about 50 or 60, and we needed that," D.T. said. "That was a big play by him and he was out there running the ball great today. We needed that, and it helped out."

Even the Raiders' Justin Tuck believed that play was a game-changer.

"I thought we started fast and then after that play, I don't know what it was, it kind of, to use your analogy, took the wind out of our sails and we weren't able to get it back," Tuck said. "But that's no excuse. We've got to figure out ways to keep our composure and keep doing what we're doing and figure out a way to play four quarters."

From there, the Broncos went on a roll, as the defense shut down Derek Carr and the Raiders in a quick three-and-out that allowed Manning and Co. back on the field with 1:40 in the half.

That was all the Broncos needed as Anderson ran another two plays for 29 yards, Juwan Thompson added a yard, and then Emmanuel Sanders popped into the statistics with a 32-yard touchdown, his first of two on the day.

Suddenly the Broncos were up 20-10 going into halftime, and the game - as well as the team - finally started looking like they were supposed to.

The defense stopped the Raiders on every possession in the third quarter while the offense scored each time - two touchdown passes to Julius Thomas and another one to Sanders, ending the quarter 41-10.

Thomas' two touchdowns put him at 12 on the year and the top Broncos tight end for most touchdowns in a season. And there are still seven games to go.

"He's a tough match up," Coach John Fox said of Thomas. "He is a great young man and he works hard at it. He's very gifted. Peyton has a lot of confidence in him."

So why didn't that Broncos dominance show up at the beginning of the game? Manning was off, the line was shaky...not what you want from your team aiming for the Lombardi.

But the Broncos locker room was not so dramatic about its poor play in the first half.

"I'm not sure it was any major adjustment. I just thought we executed a little better," Manning said of the turnaround late in the second quarter, adding that having a turnover on the second play is "obviously not the way you want to start a game."

Throw in a few penalties and it's easy to get off your rhythm.

"We moved the ball pretty well after [the interception drive] and had a couple of red zone self-inflicted wounds that cost us some touchdowns and had to settle for field goals," Manning said. "I thought our execution improved. Our defense did a good job. They got us some good field position, and we just executed better in the red zone especially. We were able to finish drives with touchdowns."

Five of them, in fact. What started out rather abysmally, ended rather spectacularly.

Our expectation is to end every possession with a touchdown...and we didn't do that. But obviously it got rolling and it felt good.  -Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver

Once the offense got its red zone swagger back, Sanders noted that the touchdown-field goal ratio got back into balance.

"Obviously in the first quarter we had a lot of penalties. Although we were scoring field goals, our expectation is to end every possession with a touchdown possibly," said Sanders, who tallied five catches for 67 yards and two TDs. "And we didn't do that, and we killed a lot of drives. But obviously it got rolling and it felt good, and we got back to the Broncos offense that you know and I know."

With a major reshuffle in the offensive line, there were bound to be some issues. And early penalties seemed to point to that, but in the end, the offensive line held up.

"I thought Will (Montgomery) did a good job in his first significant playing time here as a Bronco," Manning said of the changes. "Manny (Ramirez) did a good job at guard and Louis (Vasquez) at right tackle. It's not easy playing a new position. I give credit to all those guys for handling the adjustment on the road and playing well."

But credit the defense for keeping the game in check while the offense was figuring itself out.

"I would rather play championship defense, and that's what we did today," said Von Miller, noting the "adversity" at the beginning of the game. "But every game there's going to be adversity.  I think we had a will as a defense and we just stuck to our game and continued to play Broncos defense."

And that Broncos defense meant another monstrous attack against the run. The Raiders running game went virtually nowhere as the Broncos held them to 30 yards on the day.

The defense kept Carr in check with just 192 yards passing while also racking up two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

"That's what we always preach every week - create turnovers. And today we were able to do it," Miller said, adding that the turnovers helped get the offense going.  "You know, we were able to create a short field for those guys, the same thing that the Raiders were doing at first, and we were able to get up on the board and get a momentum going."

And even though the Raiders were 0-8 and a win was expected, it was a critical bounce-back game for the Broncos who were obviously down after last week's loss to the New England Patriots.

"I think it's the first step," said T.J. Ward, who owned one of the Broncos' two interceptions. "Coming back from a loss like last week, it's the first step.  It's a long season, and every week we are just looking to get better."

Chris Harris, Jr. , who had four tackles and one pass defended, noted the speech by John Elway this week to the team.

The current GM and former Broncos quarterback knows a thing or two about coming back after a loss.

"He challenged the whole team. He just challenged us to play better and come out execute better," Harris said. "He knows we didn't play up to our standards [last week], so we wanted to come out and make them pay."

And pay the Raiders did.

Now if we can just make every team pay for the whole game.