LAS VEGAS — The coach’s confidence in Melvin Gordon III seemed to be near bottom going into the game.
It wasn’t until less than 4 minutes remaining in the first half that head coach and offensive play-caller Nathaniel Hackett gave the veteran running back his first carry. And for a second or two, the carry was going well. After the Broncos’ starting running back Javonte Williams struggled to gain yardage, Gordon was finally given a chance and he burst up the middle for a strong 8-yard gain, spun for extra yardage as he was getting tackled and … the ball popped loose.
Fumble. Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson picked it up and shifted his way the other way for a 68-yard touchdown return. On the other side of the field, Gordon snapped his helmet off and walked dejectedly toward the Broncos’ sideline.
"I got to be better. There's no excuse for it,'' said a somber Gordon, who along with a green jacket and bright gold cap wore dark sunglasses to hide his emotions. "I'm not going to get up here and say anything that ain't right. Just got to be better. That's it."
The defensive touchdown by the Raiders off the Gordon fumble – who fumbled twice last week in an 11-10 win against San Francisco – gave Las Vegas a 16-10 lead with 3:15 remaining in the half (the extra point was missed).
The Broncos behind a sublime performance by quarterback Russell Wilson rallied a couple times but eventually fell short, 32-23 before a sold-out crowd comprised of about 35%-40% Broncos fans Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
"I got to talk to him out here for a little bit, Melvin, and I got to talk to him during the game,'' said Wilson, who for one year was Gordon's college teammate at Wisconsin. "He's so passionate. This guy works so hard every day. You should see him pre-practice andpost-practice. The amount of time he puts in. The extra catches. I told him, you're one of the best guys to ever play this game at this position. Don't forget that.' I kept reminding him, just don't forget that.''
PHOTOS | Raiders vs. Broncos
It was the first AFC West game for the Broncos, who fell to 2-2 overall and play again in four days against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night in Denver. The Raiders behind their own savvy quarterback Derek Carr and coach Josh McDaniels got a season-saving win but are still just 1-3.
McDaniels was the Broncos' head coach in 2009 (8-8) through the first 12 games of 2010 (3-9) when he was fired. He was asked if the win Sunday was personally sweet for him.
"I have said this over and over again, I don't look at (the Broncos) with any ill will,'' McDaniels said. "They gave me a great opportunity at a young age, and if anything, I look at it like it was a blessing because I learned so much from it. That made me better and I've been forever grateful for Mr. Bowlen for what he gave me an opportunity to do.
"Unfortunately, I didn't do well enough with it, but hopefully I've learned from it. But again, I don't look at that team with any kind of ill will, other than the fact that they're a division opponent and we don't like any of those guys. That's the sweet part for us is, I don't want to make this about me, this is just our team trying to hold our home turf here against another division opponent."
The Broncos next play the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night at Denver's Empower Field at Mile High and while the home team is listed as the 3-point favorite, there is serious concern about the running game going forward. Lead back Javonte Williams suffered a serious knee injury on the first play of the second half. A source told 9NEWS that while an MRI exam Monday morning will determine the full extent of the injury, the fear is Williams will miss significant time.
Then there's the No. 2 running back who has the yips. An elite NFL running back who has been held back by fumble problems periodically in his career, Gordon has 24 fumbles in his career with 10 coming in his two-plus years with the Broncos.
"It doesn't matter if I'm trying to do too much or go this way or that way, my job is to make plays and hold on to the ball and put this team in the best position to win,'' Gordon said. "I didn't do that today. But I'll be all right."
When Gordon was asked about the extra work he had been putting in on ball security, he choked up and walked off the podium without answering the question.
“In the end, you can't put the ball on the ground,'' Hackett said. "It's that simple. We always say take care of the ball, it's the most important thing. It's not like he's trying to do it, we understand that. But we just have to be even better with our ball security across the board. The other guys did a good job, and Melvin had that one."
Seemingly doomed trailing 25-16 and facing first and 30 with about 8 minutes remaining, Wilson on back-to-back passes hit Courtand Sutton for 18 yards and KJ Hamler for 55. It was Hamler's first catch of the season and it set up first and goal at the 3.
"The whole process has been a little rough right now,'' said Hamler, who is still battling back from last year's ACL and hip surgeries. "But I've got to stay in the game. Sometimes God is trickly with how he plays things. So you've just got to be patient and know you're number will be called when it's time and take advantage of it."
Wilson kept it and scored from 3 yards out to make it a game as the Broncos were within 2 at 25-23 with 7:16 remaining. But Carr clinched it with a touchdown drive that was capped by running back Josh Jacobs' 7-yard touchdown run.
Benching Gordon wasn't an option as on the first play of the second half when Javonte Williams suffered a serious injury. Helped off the field, Williams was eventually carted into the locker room. Mike Boone was the first running back to replace Williams and gained 13 yards on his first, second-half carry but Gordon did wind up back in the game.
Wilson had completed 11 of 12 passes for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns by halftime, with the Raiders leading, 19-16 at the break.
But the Broncos' offense stagnated in the third quarter with their first four possessions ending in Corliss Waitman punts.
It was a wild half along the shadows of The Strip. The Raiders’ Brandon Bolden took the opening kickoff out to the 32, where the Broncos’ lost P.J. Locke to a game-ending concussion. Josh Jacobs runs and a 20-yard completion from Carr to Davante Adams, who beat cornerback Pat Surtain II, set up first down at the Denver 13.
But Surtain came back to knock away a pass intended for Adams at the goal line and the Raiders settled for a short field goal from Carlson.
Special teams had a big impact on the Broncos’ taking the lead, 7-3. First, the Raiders botched a short punt by Waitman, with the roll pinning them back to the 13. Then Broncos’ defensive tackle D.J. Jones, who spent most of the week in the concussion protocol, powered and slipped through to sack Carr back to 2-yard line.
Raiders’ punter A.J. Cole then delivered a no-no – a long, low punt down the middle. The 63-yard boot was brought back 30 yards by Broncos’ rookie returner Montrell Washington, setting up Wilson and the Denver offense at the Raiders’ 34 yard line. Wilson made quick work zipping a 25-yard completion down the middle to tight end Eric Saubert. Two plays later, on third and goal from the 5, Wilson showed great patience in the pocket, waiting and waiting until Sutton broke free in the back of the end zone.
Touchdown. The Broncos were up 7-3, which is where it stood moving into the second quarter.
The Raiders answered with a 6-minute drive that sandwiched the quarter break. Running back Josh Jacobs kept rushing for first downs, twice the Denver defense jumped offsides, and Jacobs finished the drive by lowering his shoulder and muscling his way in for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Raiders were up 10-7. At that point, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels went for the kill against the team that fired him 12 years ago. McDaniels called for an onside kick and while the ball bounced off Broncos’ hands and fell loose, Denver linebacker Alex Singleton alertly fell on it at the Raiders’ 48.
Now the Broncos were in great position. On third down Wilson threw a beautiful pass down the right sideline to Jerry Jeudy, who beat his man for 32 yards and a first down at the Raider 12.
But two horizontal completions combined for a 1-yard loss and the Broncos settled for a short Brandon McManus field goal and a 10-10 tie with 8:03 left in the half.
With the game moving into the third quarter, the Broncos were in serious trouble as they were down 19-16 and the Raiders had first-and-goal at the 1. But defensive end Dre'Mont Jones tackled Jacobs for a loss and the Raiders came up empty on two pass attempts before settling for a short Carlson field goal and a 22-16 lead late in the third quarter.
The Raiders drove deep into Broncos' territory early in the fourth but Surtain made another stop on Adams at the Denver 13 and on fourth and 1, McDaniels opted for the field goal and the two-score lead, 25-16.
But after Wilson answered with a terrific touchdown drive highlighted by the deep ball to Hamler, he moved the Broncos to within a field goal. He finished 17 of 25 -- and at least four passes were dropped -- for 237 yards with a robust 124.9 rating and also had four carries for 29 yards and a touchdown.
Carr was 21 of 34 for 188 yards while Jacobs rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns off 28 carries. Raiders receiver Davante Adams had 9 catches for 101 yards.
The Raiders have beat the Broncos in five straight games and in 7 consecutive years at home -- dating back to 2015.
Going forward, the Broncos' biggest concern is their running game. Williams is injured. Gordon is in a fumbling rut. Boone has just two NFL starts in five seasons. Practice squad running back Devine Ozigbo may get a look Thursday against the Colts.
"Whether we got to block it better, secure the football and all those things, you got to run the football in this league,'' Hackett said. "That's my opinion and that's our offensive philosophy. So, we got to find better ways to run the ball and be able to secure the ball at all times, but we'll get better at that."
Besides the injury to Williams, the Broncos also lost outside linebacker Randy Gregory to a knee injury and special teamer Aaron Patrick to a concussion. Gregory scoffed at fears his injury was serious. He carried crutches in one hand but didn't use them as he walked outside the locker room to the team buses. ...
Third-rookie tight end Greg Dulcich and cornerback Michael Ojemudia are expected to practice this week with a chance to play Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Dulcich (hamstring) and Ojemudia (elbow) spent the first four weeks of the season on injured reserve (IR). Both are physically ready to go.
Broncos inactives for the game against the Raiders were four players with hamstring injuries – right guard Quinn Meinerz, receiver Tyrie Cleveland, outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper and cornerback Darius Phillips – plus right tackle Billy Turner (knee) and two healthy scratches, rookie receiver Jalen Virgil and defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike.
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