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Broncos blow critical game thanks to critical mistakes

For the second time this season, the Broncos' offense could not score a touchdown against the Raiders, but this time around, the lack of red zone efficiency cost the game.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

That did not go as planned.

More accurately, it did not go as hoped because it went exactly as executed - poorly. From game-planning to playing, there was a lot left to be desired from that Broncos' performance.

Although the Raiders could only muster 126 net yards of offense the entire game, compared to the Broncos' 310 - and had the ball 12 minutes less and 12 fewer first downs than the Broncos - the Raiders were 2-for-2 in the red zone while the Broncos were 0-for-3.

We were really poor in the red zone. And we lost the line of scrimmage offensively. We played great defense and just never finished the game.  -Gary Kubiak

That proved a costly difference in a low-scoring game.

"We were really poor in the red zone," Kubiak said after the game, noting that the Broncos had 224 yards and 17 first downs to the Raiders' -12 and 1 at halftime. "We had a chance to really do some damage in the first half, didn't do it and then obviously helped them in the second half."

That "help" came in the form of two fumbles - one on a muffed punt and another on strip sack in the end zone that led to a safety (which Max Garcia prevented from becoming another Oakland touchdown) - as well as several big drops at key moments that killed drives and scoring potential.

But the biggest culprit in a loss that had a lot of blame to pass around was what Kubiak called "losing the line of scrimmage offensively."

That would be the best euphemism ever for "our offensive line straight up got owned" - allowing five sacks on Brock Osweiler and preventing a running game from even thinking about "getting established" as it registered a pathetic 34 yards. Total.

"There is no doubt we got pushed around," Kubiak acknowledged, noting the Raiders were in the backfield in a heartbeat, but the team also missed opportunities. "We had many, many chances to get it done and didn't get it done."

The main disruptor was Khalil Mack, a second-year outside linebacker who terrorized the Broncos' line all day, accounting for all five of the Raiders' sacks on Osweiler.

"He's a great player. We tried to help a little bit on him, but sometimes when you're back there, you've got to hold up. We didn't hold up," Kubiak said in one of the biggest understatements of the season. "He played on our left, he played on our right, he played everywhere. He's a great player. Just give him credit."

Osweiler certainly gave Mack credit.

"I felt the pressure, I knew it was coming," the quarterback said, giving Mack props for the strip sack in the end zone. "Credit to him. He just kept coming. He kept playing hard. ...Mack played a phenomenal game."

But the Broncos made it easier for Mack by throwing the ball 51 times, compared to just 21 times running the ball.

"If we could run the ball and do those type of things, we can help our tackles," Kubiak said. "When we were sitting there throwing it every down, we obviously didn't help them. That's a tough duty for [the tackles], but sometimes you've got to get that done in those situations, too."

Mack noted that it wasn't always easy to get to Osweiler, who is far more mobile than Peyton Manning. But Osweiler's slower release time may have given Mack the edge.

I knew [Mack] was coming. Credit to him. He just kept coming. He played a phenomenal game.   -Brock Osweiler on Khalil Mack.

"[Brock] was mobile. He could move out of the pocket. They use him on boots, they use him to get out," Mack said, noting that Osweiler's ability to stretch the plays outside was "big" for the Broncos offense. "As far as holding the ball, he held the ball a lot longer than Peyton did."

But before fans try to turn this into one more tiresome (and totally useless) debate about Osweiler and Manning, the biggest problem was the line, as Kubiak reiterated: "It was obvious the line of scrimmage was won by them. They did a hell of a job."

It was a perplexing loss given the team's talent, yet one easily explained by bad play, poor adjustments and missed opportunities.

Osweiler missed some reads and overthrew several receivers, but the most obvious missed opportunities were dropped passes by Demaryius Thomas and Vernon Davis. Though the two had a combined production of catching 17 of 23 passes, adding a total of 169 receiving yards, both had drops that could have changed the game in the Broncos favor.

Davis, who dropped a wide-open pass for a first down on 4th and 5, just forgot the most fundamental rule in catching - don't take your eyes off the ball.

"The ball was thrown, I got super excited because I knew I was going to be wide open, took my eyes off the ball and wasn't able to pull it in," Davis said of the play that would have extended the Broncos' final attempt to win the game. "I should know better than that. I've got to get better."

Thomas dropped an easy pass on 3rd and 4 on the previous drive that forced Broncos to punt and give up a chance to take the lead.

While DT wasn't as self-deprecating as Davis, he certainly took blame for contributing to the mistakes that led to the loss.

"We had a couple turnovers. They scored on one of them. Me and Vernon had a drop on third down where we should have converted," Thomas said of what hurt the Broncos. "It's just stuff we've got to go back to the drawing table, stay after to catch more - whatever we've got to do."

Regardless of how obvious the answer to that is, Osweiler is not worried about his receivers.

"I'm not discouraged by the drops at all. At the end of the day, we're a team. You can never point the finger at anybody," said the quarterback who got his first loss since becoming the starter in Week 11. "There's no reason to point any fingers. Everybody fought hard. Unfortunately, Oakland played very well today. Jack Del Rio had a great game plan. We just came up short."

The Raiders' "great game plan" amounted to exploiting the Broncos' second biggest weakness - the offensive line - while exposing its actual biggest weakness yesterday - not adjusting to help a porous offensive line against the Mack Attack.

Brandon Marshall called Mack "an animal" who had a "career game" but added that the Broncos have to focus on fixing their mistakes and looking ahead.

"The time to move on is after we watch the film on Monday, because you definitely have to correct mistakes," said Marshall who had a relatively low three tackles on the night. "We have to correct what we didn't do, correct what we did do. We have to be on point with different things. So, the time to move on is after the film session."

This was big for us. It's the Broncos. You're playing a great team, a great defense, a great offense. We were able to steal this one.   -Khalil Mack

Mack summed up the Raiders' second half surge perfectly - determination. The Broncos did not score a single touchdown on the AFC West rival in either matchup this season. While Mack and the Raiders defense consider that a nice accomplishment, the important thing is winning the game - something they were able to do the second time around.

"By any means, we wanted to win this one. This was big for us," Mack said. "I mean, it's the Broncos. You're playing against a great team, great defense, great offense. We were able to steal this one and leave their home with a win. It's big."

It's no wonder Del Rio also got huge satisfaction out of the win. Beating the 10-2 Broncos and snapping their own eight-game losing streak probably doesn't change the outcome of the Raiders' postseason hopes, but it did give a huge boost to a team that watched its early success dwindle away.

"It's very sweet, and it's a victory we needed," the former Broncos defensive coordinator said of his Raiders. "The sweetest thing is over this last month of the season, we get everybody in our division, and we want to play our best 60 minutes each week out. So there's a lot of room for improvement, but this is a heck of a win."

And a very costly loss for the Broncos who had an opportunity with a win to take the lead for the No. 1 seed in the AFC as the Bengals lost to the Steelers.

Instead, the Broncos' loss and the Patriots' win solidified New England as the No. 1 seed with only the Titans, Jets and Dolphins standing in their way while Denver has a road trip to the stampeding Steelers before hosting the Bengals. It also increased the Chiefs chances to compete for the AFC West.

It certainly wasn't the way the Broncos wanted to head into the final weeks of the season, but now it's time to focus on the task ahead rather than lament what cannot be changed.

Though the Broncos' defense remained strong for the most part - giving up two touchdowns in the second half but holding the Raiders offense to very little production otherwise - players recognize the loss comes down on everybody and must be overcome by everybody.

"It is what it is. All we can do is go out there and stop their offense. That's what we tried to do," said Malik Jackson, who swatted two Derek Carr passes and had two tackles. "I think we did a good job of that today, but they've got firepower too ...and they just won the battle today."

How much "kicking and screaming" this team has will come out in the next two weeks. Chris Harris Jr. certainly has the right mentality.

"I'm hot. We were not supposed to lose that game. We played terrible in the second half, gave them the ball every time. So we've just got to be smarter," said the cornerback. "We can't beat ourselves. This is going to be a tough team to beat if we don't beat ourselves."