Now that was close.
Closer than it should have been perhaps, but not as close as it might have been.
Wins don’t care by how many - or how few.
Only that one team has more points than the other.
The Broncos started with a one-handed circus catch to score and ended with a high-flying circus catch to prevent one.
The result was that the Broncos ended up with six more points than the other team.
A win is a win is a win, as they say.
“One of our young bulls stepped up like a vet in the clutch,” said Aqib Talib. “High pointed the ball, you cannot do much better than that. So that is a big-time play by J.”
Chris Harris Jr. noted that since Oakland had no timeouts, the secondary knew its goal was just to not give up the touchdown and the Broncos would win.
For many a team, that’s easier said than done.
For the team with the No Fly Zone, that’s part of the game plan.
“They just came out and they were in no-huddle mode,” the cornerback said. “They didn’t have any timeouts, so we knew that we had a chance to get a turnover - and we came up with one.”
A turnover, mind you, just eight yards from a Raiders touchdown with Denver only up by six.
So about as “game-saving” as you can get, the finish had all the drama of a 2015 Broncos win - where the defense balled out for the team all game and then bailed it out for the 16-10 win.
“It’s a division game. We expect all division games to be like that. They usually all go to the wire,” said Harris Jr. “We were just happy to end the game on defense. We know that we can finish way better, and that’s something we’ll try to correct over the bye.”
Coach Vance Joseph is “definitely pleased” to be heading into the bye week 3-1, but he’s not particularly happy with some obvious weaknesses that can be easily exploited.
“That [win] was huge for us today,” the coach said, before offering his first quarter of the season assessment. “What I like about our football team right now is our run defense has been excellent. Running the football with our offensive line and our backs has been excellent. My issue with our football team right now - we make a lot of critical errors. That has to stop.”
Critical errors Sunday afternoon ranged from costly flags - such as false starts and holding calls that negated hard-earned forward progress - to total inefficiency in the red zone.
And by “total inefficiency,” I mean total - ZERO touchdowns on FOUR trips to the red zone, plus only 3-of-4 on field goals during those treks inside the 20.
“Again, it’s really self-inflicted wounds,” Joseph said, noting the holding and false start penalties in the second quarter, which were followed by an incomplete pass and sack. “We’ve got to score points down there and score touchdowns down there - and we had a missed field goal. That part of our offense we have to fix quickly.”
The offense started as though it were picking up where it left off last week in Buffalo - a couple of short running plays and a sack.
But it bounced back red hot on its second drive with a pair of long tosses to Bennie Fowler - one of them amazing - before a couple in a row to A.J. Derby - also amazing … and for a touchdown.
And then the offense began to falter. It was no meltdown, but it was just enough to keep the Raiders in the game.
“I just felt like we were always one play away from really getting momentum,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said of the offensive sputters. “We just didn’t really have a rhythm, and they did a good job of mixing up coverages, defenses and safety pressures. They kept us on our toes, but we’ve got to find a way to stay in a rhythm, stay on the field and get it to our guys.”
The Broncos drilled down to the Raiders’ 5-yard line before a penalty and incomplete passes drove the Broncos back, forcing them to settle for three.
The next three possessions for the Broncos would end virtually the same way - with punts - heading into the half only up 10-7.
“I think we’re hurting ourselves down there. I’ve got to watch everything, but we have to find a way to get touchdowns instead of field goals,” Siemian said. “I thought the first week we did a good job of that. We’ll figure it out, clean it up on the bye and be ready to go.”
Great team win I will get better and find the endzone— Cj Anderson (@cjandersonb22) October 2, 2017
C.J. Anderson, who added another solid rushing day to his season with 95 yards on 20 carries, believes the key is in skill players making plays and keeping the quarterback standing up.
Siemian was sacked four times for a loss of 24 yards - two from All-Pro Khalil Mack who was a menace all day with his seven tackles and four QB hits on top of the sacks.
“We just have to make plays,” Anderson said, recalling a bobbled catch on his part that could have gone for a bigger play if he caught it clean. “We have to hold up Trevor a little bit more. We have to go watch the tape, but maybe we get the ball out quicker. Some things on us that we have to find a way to put the ball in the box and bury teams. We don’t want to keep games close like that. We need to bury them.”
Thankfully, helping the Broncos’ offense bury the Raiders was the Silver and Black’s own offense that got hot on occasion but could never find a running game to sustain itself or a passing game to completely revive it.
Because that’s what happens when you face the Broncos defense - elite pass rushing, tight coverage and a particularly stingy run defense.
In fact, the Broncos held the Raiders to a weak-by-any-standard 24 yards rushing on the entire day. It was the fourth week in a row the run defense held an elite running back to an embarrassingly low total.
This week’s example belonged to Marshawn Lynch, who turned in a measly 12 yards on the ground.
“You see some of the guys that we’re stopping, and it’s a whole defensive effort,” said defensive end Adam Gotsis. “It’s not just the D-line. It’s the linebackers doing their job and the secondary coming down helping out. It’s a team defense. Everybody has got to do their job to make this work, and I think right now that’s what people are doing.”
Von Miller attributes the revived defense to attitude.
“Really, it’s the same exact team. I think the energy and culture is different,” he said. “Domata [Peko Sr.] is playing great for us. [Derek] Wolfe is playing great. Adam Gotsis is playing red hot right now. When those three guys play the way that they play, it makes everybody’s job easier, especially in the run.”
Broncos LB @VonMiller now has 84 career sacks (reg season & playoffs), the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) October 1, 2017
Although the pass rush took a while to really get after the quarterback, by the end of the day, Miller - with some help from Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris - did exactly as expected, taking the quarterback down three times while putting pressure on him all day long.
“I felt like we did pretty good,” Miller said of the pass-rushing attempts. “He was throwing the ball extremely fast. Like I said before, they have a really great offensive line. Through all the chips and the quick passes, we were still able to get to them. That’s all we can really ask for.”
Well, that and a game-winning turnover that Justin Simmons was happy to oblige.
Finishing the game as the highest graded Bronco according to PFF, the safety formerly known as Baby No Fly earned an 88.1 overall grade and a 92.5 coverage grade.
Some fans may want to call that ending “lucky.”
But Todd Davis - like me - calls it awesome-sauce.
“I love it. I think we thrive off the big games and the big names of the guys that are supposed to come in and do well,” the linebacker said, adding that the win was “huge” momentum going into the bye.
FAVORITE PLAY of the game???
This poll is closed
Justin Simmons’ INT, of course
A.J. Derby’s one-handed-I-see-you-OBJ touchdown
Sunshine’s monster block on the fake punt
Any sack by Von, Wolfe or Shelby
The RUN D all day