The Denver Broncos' defense has been generally stellar this year, outside of their propensity to allow big plays. Their Achilles heel caught up to them in the fourth quarter, causing the final blow in Denver's 21-14 loss to the Raiders, Sunday.
Broncos' quarterback Trevor Siemian found Bennie Fowler III in the end zone on a beautiful 22-yard deep ball, after orchestrating a 12-play 75-yard drive. Denver was down 21-14 with 2:39 to play.
Brandon McManus and Denver's special teams pinned the Raiders at the 13-yard line on the kickoff and stuffed Marshawn Lynch on Oakland's first two plays. On third and eight from their own 15, the Raiders had to convert or give the ball back to the Broncos, likely with a little over two minutes on the clock.
Denver's pass rush did its job, forcing Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to lob the ball high into the air, 20 yards down the middle of the field. Rookie Brendan Langley lost his man, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Patterson made the catch, all but ending the game in the Raiders' favor. The Broncos missed multiple tackles on the play, which ended up being a 54-yard gain.
Langley also allowed a second-quarter touchdown to Amari Cooper and was flagged for pass interference in the end zone later in the game.
Siemian entered the game late in the third quarter after the starter, Paxton Lynch, was injured. Siemian hadn't seen the field since the Broncos were still heavily in playoff contention, five weeks ago. Siemian's final drive of the day was impressive, but he started cold, missing open receivers by significant margins. He also seemed to be out of sync with his receivers, despite interim offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's new, simpler offensive system.
The third-year quarterback out of Northwestern finished the game with 149 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-29 passing. His quarterback rating was 107.0.
Lynch was visibly disappointed by the way his day went. When he left the game following an ankle injury in the third quarter he sat on the bench with his head in his hands, crying.
Sunday was Lynch's first start since last season, and he's missed most of the season with a throwing shoulder injury. Lynch completed nine of his 14 pass attempts for 41 yards and a tipped interception in the end zone. His quarterback rating was 38.4.
The offense was inefficient under Lynch and only gained 54 yards in the first half.
But Denver's passing offense wasn't the only problem.
The Broncos' running game wasn't strong either, totaling 59 yards on 17 attempts. Lynch accounted for 20 of those yards on two rushes. C.J. Anderson was Denver's leading running back with 12 yards on five carries. Devontae Booker trailed him with 11 yards on six attempts.
The Broncos' defense was fierce, but couldn't do enough to keep the team in the game.
Von Miller, who only posted one sack in the last seven weeks, got back on the board when he combined with Shelby Harris to get to Derek Carr, early in the game. Shaq Barrett also posted a strip-sack, which set the Broncos up in Oakland territory, only to see Denver turn the ball over in the end zone.
Derek Carr was efficient against Denver's secondary, partially due to Talib's absence. He totaled 253 yards on 18-of-24 passing along with two touchdowns.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Marshawn Lynch redeemed himself after a poor performance against the Broncos in their first meeting.
Lynch ended his day with 24 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown. While his yards per carry (2.7) leaves plenty to be desired, the veteran running back was consistently ground out yards when the Raiders needed him and helped Oakland dominate time of possession. His longest carry was just seven yards. Lynch was also a factor in the passing game, catching three passes for 44 yards, highlighted by a 26-yard play.
Lynch's highlight may have come just three minutes into the game when he walked Aqib Talib through Oakland's sideline to the locker room, defending him from the Raiders' bench, after Talib was ejected.
PLAY OF THE GAME
On second and goal from the one-yard line at the beginning of the second quarter, Paxton Lynch targeted Virgil Green in the back of the end zone. It probably wasn't his best decision, but it certainly wasn't horrible by any means. The pass was slightly off target and was tipped around the end zone before NaVorro Bowman, who was laying on the ground, saw the ball fall into his arms.
The Broncos had a chance to take an early lead but didn't end up getting on the board until the fourth quarter when the Raiders had already scored three touchdowns. This miscue doomed the Broncos in the way that other miscues have doomed them in each of the last seven weeks. Who knows what would have happened if Denver could have converted?
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"I'm just glad to hear he's okay." - Darian Stewart, talking about Amari Cooper, whom Stewart knocked out with a big hit in the second half. Cooper was diagnosed with a concussion.
BY THE NUMBERS
54- total yards gained by the Broncos in the first half
60%- amount of the game that the Raiders had possession of the ball
26- rushing yards gained by the Broncos' halfbacks
Who knows what will happen next in an AFC West division that seems to get weirder each week? Not me.
What I do know is that the Broncos' already slim postseason hopes were all but extinguished when they lost to the Raiders on Sunday.
@ Miami Dolphins (4-7), 11:00 a.m. MST, Sunday, December 3; FOX