KUSA—Offense, defense, special teams. It's not a cliche. At least it wasn't during a Denver Broncos' three-play sequence in the third quarter.
Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe sacked Oakland Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr for an 8-yard loss. Defense.
With the ball back on the Raiders' 9 yard line, Oakland's Marquette King punted low for 51 yards where Broncos' rookie isaiah McKenzie scooted left for a 29-yard return. Special teams.
With the Broncos' drive starting just 31 yards from a touchdown, C.J. Anderson on the first play slashed for 12 yards. Offense.
Defense, special teams, offense is not the order usually recited. But it was complementary football nonetheless.
Brandon McManus wound up kicking a 46-yard field goal for a 16-7 lead. It got nerve-wrecking for the Broncos at the end, as it took second-year safety Justin Simmons to outposition Raider receiver Amari Cooper for a deep ball thrown by EJ Manuel, but the Broncos held on for a 16-10 win.
The Broncos are now 3-1 with wins against the Dallas Cowboys and Raiders, who combined for 25 wins last season, heading into their bye week.
"Definitely pleased to be 3-1,'' said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. "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.''
There was concern that the Broncos were 0 of 4 in scoring touchdowns from the red zone. Their lone touchdown came just outside the red zone as Trevor Siemian hit A.J. "Hand" Derby with a 22-yard scoring pass in the first quarter. Not only 0 of 4 in touchdowns, but just 3 of 4 in field goals as Brandon McManus missed a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped keep Oakland in the game.
"I think we're hurting ourselves down there,'' said Siemian, who after a fast start finished 16 of 26 for 179 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. "I've got to watch everything, but we have to find a way to get touchdowns instead of field goals. 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.''
The Raiders, who lost Carr to a back injury later in the second half, fell to 2-2.
"I'm not happy about that but that's what it is,'' said Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
Can’t fault the Raiders too much for not knowing how to cover A.J. Derby. There wasn’t much film of the Broncos’ tight end to watch.
Through the first three games of the 2017 season, Derby had accumulated just 39 receiving yards.
On back-to-back plays in the first quarter Sunday on a glorious-turned-cloudy October afternoon at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Derby had two catches for 51 yards, including a one-handed, 22-yard snag for a touchdown.
After both teams started with three-and-outs, Siemian got the Broncos going on their second possession with an 88-yard drive that needed just seven plays to complete.
He hit Bennie Fowler III on the left sideline for 17 yards, then hung tough to convert a third-and-seven play. Siemian was escaping the pocket right when he was clobbered from behind by Raiders’ pass-rushing star Khalil Mack. Despite the contact, Siemian got enough on the throw to leave a jump ball in the direction of Fowler, who out-muscled defensive back David Amerson for the 18-yard completion.
Siemian then went to Derby for 29 yards on a catch-and-run, and then went back to the tight end on the next play. Derby ran a sideline-and-go that froze his defender and left him alone down the right sideline. Siemian’s throw was an inch-too-far-from perfect but Derby reached up with his right hand and gathered it in, then kept the ball in his one hand without securing it with the other while crossing the goal line.
"I didn't even know (my left hand) didn't touch it,'' Derby said. "I haven't see the play so I can't say. I felt like three gingers. I haven't seen it so I have no idea.''
Apparently, football players play without thinking.
On their next drive, the Broncos drove from their own 11 to the Oakland 5 before a false start penalty on left tackle Garett Bolles thwarted the goal-to-go chance. McManus kicked a short field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The Broncos were in complete command with six minutes left in the half. They had their 10-point lead and punter Riley Dixon pinned the Raiders back on their own one-yard line.
But then Carr found the leaks in the Broncos’ pass defense. He got out of his end zone with an 11-yard completion to tight end Lee Smith. A third down pass to running Jalen Richard picked up 20.
And then Carr connected deep with receiver Johnny Holton, who on a flag pattern left to right beat Broncos’ safety Darian Stewart for a 64-yard touchdown.
Siemian was sacked four times, twice by the great Khalil Mack, but held strong. C.J. Anderson had 95 tough yards on 20 carries and four catches for 17 yards.
The Denver D held Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries. Carr was 10 of 18 for 143 yards before he was knocked out. Manuel nearly brought the Raiders back, completing 11 of 17 for 106 yards before Simmons thwarted his comeback.
It's the second year in a row Simmons' remarkable athleticism finished off a Broncos win in the game before their bye. He leaped over the line of scrimmage to block an extra point that teammate Will Parks returned for a 2-point conversion and gave the Broncos a 25-23 win.
His leaping interception on a too-high, too-short and too-far-inside throw by Manuel inside his own 10-yard line with 1:56 left halted the Raiders' comeback bid.
“I had to go attack the ball whether it was thrown in the middle or up in the air, just high point the ball and be playmaker,'' Simmons said.
"Justin Simmons made a great interception there,'' said Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. "Beast Mode (Lynch) had 12 yards. Who's next? That's what I say.''
After next week's bye, the Broncos play the 0-4 New York Giants on Oct. 15 in Denver.
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