Yeah, I know: It's ridiculous. We ought to be celebrating the Broncos' 26-13 victory over the Raiders in Oakland last night. After all, it's Denver's eighth straight win, and it keeps alive the chance that the team could move up in playoffs seeding. But damn it if Peyton Manning's transformation of this squad hasn't spoiled us into wondering, even as we enjoy each successive W, why the Broncos aren't even better....
As we pointed out yesterday in the introduction to our gallery of Raiders suck memes, the once fearsome Black and Silver has been tarnished so greatly that it's hard to get worked up about what was once among the NFL's most passionate rivalries.
Granted, QB Carson Palmer had some good moments in the Black Hole last night, including a first-half touchdown drive executed with the sort of precision the Raiders have seldom demonstrated in recent years. But he still makes the sort of mistakes that have prevented him from attaining elite status (one of them wound up in Champ Bailey's arms), and his supporting cast isn't nearly good enough to make up for his shortcomings. Even Darren McFadden, who's scorched the Broncos D in the past, looked like a mere mortal -- a tribute to Von Miller and company, sure, but also an indication that the injury bug that's held him down since hitting the league may have left him permanently diminished.
Given these factors, the Broncos should have won the game in a rout, and during the first quarter, they appeared to be well on their way to doing so. The first drive almost ended in a three and out, but a blatant defensive holding penalty kept the offense on the field, allowing Manning to work his magic -- a spell that ended with a six yarder to Joel Dreessen for touchdown. But while the next drive seemed guaranteed to end in the same result, it sputtered instead, with Manning taking a huge sack -- one of a surprising three in the first half.
The result was a Matt Prater field goal try, and the ball sailed right through without the sort of slicing or fading that's made his kicking so nerve-racking of late. But while it's good to think he's gotten over his case of the yips, fans would rather see him booting extra points than three-pointers -- and over the course of the game, he only got to smash two of the former, as opposed to four of the latter. Even worse, one of his field goals came after Denver failed to convert a first and goal from the Raiders' one-yard line after Demaryius Thomas (who was dinged up during the game) drew an interference flag in the end zone.
As for the defense, Miller and Elvis Dumervil had a surprisingly difficult time reaching Palmer during the first part of the game. But by limiting McFadden, the Denver defenders were able to keep Oakland from doing much damage. Then, in the third quarter, Miller finally got to Carson, knocking the ball in the direction of Mitch Unrein, who's becoming a fan favorite -- he had a play or two on offense again this week, after catching a touchdown pass this past Sunday against Tampa Bay. And this time, the offense cashed in with a touchdown drive -- one two yards long.
Continue for more of our post about the Broncos' win over the Raiders, including two videos. At that point, the game was pretty much over, but those nettlesome NFL rules required both teams to punch the time clock for a little while longer. The Raiders scored a garbage time touchdown in the fourth, failed to complete the two-point conversion, and Manning ran out the clock.
Boring? Frankly, yes -- but that's a tribute to Peyton. Not once during the contest was there any doubt he'd find a way to win the game, and he did. Yet the number of stalled drives against a team that's hardly among the NFL's best is unsettling, especially with the next game coming against the Baltimore Ravens -- the sole playoff squad left on the Broncos' soft closing schedule.
Will Denver rise to the occasion against a better opponent? If Manning has anything to say about it, absolutely. But should the Broncos play like they did last night against the Ravens, they'll have a mighty tough time getting consecutive win number nine.
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Look below to see a post-game interview with Thomas courtesy of CBS4, plus, for now, a round-up of the game as a whole.