DENVER — Nan Miller had a message for the Broncos as they readied to face their divisional nemesis Sunday afternoon. Her late husband lived to beat that pesky team from Oakland and he never cared if it took a fight or a brawl or every ounce of his players’ energy. So long as they got it done.
The Broncos honored their former coach, Red Miller, who passed away last week, with a video tribute during the game, but Nan hoped the Broncos would go beyond: Beat those Raiders for Red.
Message received. But pretty, it definitely wasn’t.
The Broncos’ defense held late and their run game led the way as Denver eked out a 16-10 victory to claim sole possession of second place in the AFC West. Safety Justin Simmons’ interception with less than two minutes left sealed the victory.
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 16 of 26 passes for 179 yards, one touchdown and a 94.9 passer rating. But he was also sacked four times as pass protection broke down under the pressure of Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards.
So, the Broncos relied on their defense that held Oakland to 24 rushing yards on 15 carries, and their running backs, who broke loose for 142 yards on 28 attempts.
After a quick three-and-out and the first sack of Siemian, the Broncos put together an 88-yard scoring drive capped with a pair of completions to tight end A.J. Derby for a total 51 yards — a 29-yard catch that set up a 22-yard touchdown. Derby’s caught the tip of the football with his fingertips and waltzed into the end zone with only one hand grasping the ball.
The touchdown was the first of his career, and it opened the gates as Jamaal Charles found holes and the Raiders were penalized 30 yards for defensive pass interference, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Brandon McManus later in the first quarter for a 10-0 lead. Charles, appearing much like the explosive back he was before multiple knee surgeries, finished with five carries for 33 yards. C.J. Anderson added 95 more.
But the early momentum didn’t last.
One play in the second quarter kept the Broncos’ lead in check as the Raiders took advantage of Denver’s five-defensive back look — Von Miller was not on the field — and Derek Carr found receiver Johnny Holton for a 64-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown grab.
The Broncos’ offense that racked up 140 yards in the first quarter notched only 65 in the second — and was forced to punt three times.
Denver returned from the halftime break in much the same fashion, with a re-dedication to pounding the ball on the ground in one quarter, then watching their momentum fade in the next. On their first possession of the third quarter, Anderson broke out for 53 yards on three carries — including one for 40 yards — to set up a 37-yard field goal by McManus and a 13-7 lead. Then, in three successive plays, all three phases pitched in as defensive end Derek Wolfe sacked Carr on third down, Isaiah McKenzie picked up 29 yards on a punt return and Anderson barreled up the middle for 12-yard gain.
Late in the third quarter, Carr was sacked by Shelby Harris and knocked out of the game with a back injury. A failed fake punt by and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Oakland’s punter Marquette King gave the Broncos a prime opportunity to blow open the lead. But McManus hit the upright on a 29-yard fight goal attempt and the Raiders stormed back behind backup quarterback E. J. Manuel.
Chances to close it out were had, but the Broncos simply couldn’t capitalize.
With little success on the ground, Manuel aired it and torched the Broncos’ pass defense on 73-yard scoring drive — with all passes — to pull within 16-10 on a field goal.
After Denver went three-and-out, the Raiders got the ball back with a chance to win on their 42-yard line with 4:16 left. They advanced as far as Denver’s 36 but Simmons’s interception ended the suspense.
Miller’s message? Heard loud and clear.