It wasn’t just another Monday night. The potential final game in Oakland against bitter rival Broncos in primetime on Christmas Eve had the Raiders getting up for this one. It even rained, just to set the scene and add to the intrigue.
The first score came on a 99-yard punt return by Dwayne Harris. The Ballers should recap the 27-14 victory from there.
For some reason, the Raiders didn’t even run the ball in the first quarter. Once they did, the offense got moving for the first time. The first drive of the second quarter began with a 5-yard run by Martin. Later, on third and two, he broke off nine yards. Two plays later, he went backdoor where there was no one home and ran 24 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Their next drive, he had an 11-yard run that put them at the Denver 39-yard-line. A few plays later, the Raiders tacked on a field goal to jump out to a 17-0 lead at the half.
Near the end of the third quarter, the Raiders went on a long drive, just when they needed it most. It began with Martin runs of 7 and 9 yards and ended with four-straight runs from Martin of 4 yards, 14 yards to put them in first and goal at the six, cutting that in half with a 3-yard run, and finishing it off with a 3-yard touchdown run. The drive took 7:20 off the clock and put the Raiders up 24-7
Martin had the final punch in the mouth of the Broncos, when on third and 9, he literally punched Will Parks in the mouth (with his shoulder pad) planting Parks on his back and going for 12 yards. It put the Raiders at the 5-yard-line, but they didn’t need to score because they could kneel it out from there. Martin finished with 107 yards on 21 carries (51 yards per carry).
Before the Raiders even had a first down, the Raiders were up by seven. Harris had everyone to do with. He made the first tackle of the game on the opening kickoff to stop the Broncos at their own 23. But it was the next special teams play that really stands out.
On the Broncos’ first punt, Harris made a brilliant move. Broncos’ punter Colby Wadman launched a punt that he let go in the hopes it would bounce into the end zone. The punt was headed that way until a couple of Broncos players batted it back to save it from being a touchback. What they didn’t count on was Harris knowing the rules and making them pay for it.
As all this was happening, Harris was hovering, watching for his chance. When the ball was batted out to the one-yard-line, he alertly scooped it up and made a risky play that paid off big time. He ran back into the end zone to elude two other Broncos’ coverage players. He got the edge around the right side and went up the right sideline with a convoy for a 99-yard return for a touchdown. It was magnificent. You can see it here.
Karl Joseph, Marcus Gilchrist, Erik Harris
The safeties were doing work in this game. And making their presence felt with some pummeling hits that were giving fans at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum visions of the old Soul Patrol days.
Joseph got into the Broncos’ backfield on the first play from scrimmage to disrupt the run where it was stopped for a short gain. The first play of the next series, he was flagged for roughing, but you’ll take that kind of hit any day as a message. It was also a hit that wouldn’t have been flagged, but celebrated a few years ago.
That roughing gave the Broncos a first down, but Gilchrist ended it there with two run stuffs and then laying a hard hit on the sideline that was not dissimilar to Joseph’s over the middle. Except Gilchrist wasn’t flagged, the pass fell incomplete, and the Broncos punted (see Dwayne Harris above for what happened next).
The next drive saw Joseph make a run stuff that set up a third and long and led to a punt. The next series, Harris had two run stuffs, one on a scramble by Case Keenum. The next play, Joseph sacked Keenum and then on third and 10 came again on the blitz to hit Keenum and force an incompletion and another punt.
There would be five Broncos punts and a miss on a 58-yard field goal in the first half to keep them scoreless. The safeties were a major reason for that.
Gilchrist and Harris would be victimized for the Broncos two touchdowns respectively. They would then both make amends for it.
After the second Broncos TD, the Broncos were down just 24-14 with 7:27 left in the game. That’s plenty of time to score a TD and a field goal. Then Gilchrist picked off Keenum to give the Raiders the ball back in field goal range. The converted field goal put the Raiders up 27-14 with 4:38. Not as easy to go on two touchdown drives in that amount of time.
In four-down territory, the Broncos would find themselves in 4th and 19. Keenum went deep over the middle and there was Erik Harris to pick it off. That all but sealed it.
Jon Gruden, Derek Carr, Jordy Nelson
This week, after another 5-sack game on Derek Carr, Gruden said he would look into giving the offensive line a better protection plan. And that he did. Of the 31 times Derek Carr dropped back to pass, there was either a tight end to help block or a chip block by a running back provided 20 times. And of those 11 times, there wasn’t a tight end or a chip, the ball went to a tight end or a running back 7 of those times. That means the offense lined up to throw to a receiver just four times without giving at least one of the tackles some help. There were also very few pass that traveled more than ten yards downfield, allowing Derek Carr to get rid of the ball quickly.
That plan worked like a charm as the elite duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were held in check. Chubb got a pressure that resulted in a sack on the second drive, but there was nothing after that.
Carr wasn’t asked to take a lot of shots in the game. He and Nelson were able to connect on several third down conversions late that were crucial to the Raiders keeping the Broncos mostly out of the game.
The first scoring drive for the Raiders, Carr had his first hookup with Nelson for 12 yards. The next drive, he found Nelson for 16 yards on third and 10 and 14 yards on the next play to put them at midfield. An 11-yard connection with Seth Roberts would put the Raiders in scoring position and the field goal that followed put them up 17-0 at the half. Oh, and that 14-yard completion was the only one of Carr’s 7 connections with Nelson in which there wasn’t a TE or RB helping with pass protection.
On their final touchdown drive, the Raiders converted two third downs; both times Carr found Nelson to convert it. Nelson would finish with 7 catches for 75 yards, while Carr would continue his streak of 10-straight games without an interception and was efficient enough to lead the Raiders to a win in what could be their home finale. The lap around the coliseum giving high fives to the fans was a nice touch too.
Brandon Parker, Kolton Miller
Even though they got help from the protection plan, it should take credit away from these two for keeping Carr from getting lit up again.
Parker gave up no sacks and on a couple run plays, he was a monster, including the 3-yard run by Doug Martin in which Parker blocked his man well into the end zone allowing Martin to just follow him in for the score.
Kolton Miller gave up the pressure from Bradley Chubb that resulted in the game’s only sack. But after that, his pass protection was superb. Mainly because it was Parker who got the help from tight ends and chip blocks most of the time, leaving Miller to face either Chubb or Miller one-on-one. In fact, I only counted four pass plays in which Miller received assistance. Quite a turnaround from what was easily the worst game of Miller’s young career just last week.
Morrow had two run stuffs on the first Broncos’ possession including one in which he made the tackle for loss on a catch. The next drive, he kept gap discipline to lead to another run stuff. In between, he made the final key block that sprung Dwayne Harris to finish off his 99-yard punt return touchdown.
At the end of the first quarter, he disrupted a screen pass, that resulted in a fumble, but running back Phillip Lindsay got a lucky bounce to pick up 11 yards anyway. He had one more run stop to finish with 4 combined tackles (3 solo), one for a loss, and a forced fumble.
Rich Bisaccia, Kyle Wilber, Marquel Lee, Nick Nelson – Dwayne Harris gets most of the credit for his heads-up play on the 99-yard punt return, but he has some help. Bisaccia is the one who puts everything together for special teams, and Wilber, Lee, Nelson, and Nicholas Morrow were the primary blockers in Harris’s entourage that helped him make the journey to pay dirt.