The football lay on the grass at Empower Field. 2:29 remained in the third quarter of the game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos. First-and-ten for the Broncos, ball at the Denver 36-yard line, Denver trailing 24 – 10. Out of the shotgun, Bronco quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took the snap.
Within two seconds the protective pocket began to collapse—the four-man Raider defensive rush once again harassing Bridgewater, as it had all day. Bridgewater began running up the middle of the field with Solomon Thomas closing in like a torpedo looking for its prey. Thomas, at 280 pounds--once criticized as too light for the defensive line—jarred the football loose onto the ground, where it was scooped up like a small newborn by linebacker Denzel Perryman.
Play of the Game.
What? Okay, so it wasn’t a clear-cut "play of the game." The truth is, in the Las Vegas Raiders’ convincing 34 – 24 win over the Denver Broncos, one would find it easier to count pebbles on Mount Kilamanjaro than to decide which Silver-and-Black play turned the tide against their AFC West rival. The team effort was so complete that choosing the best song on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon would prove a simpler task then picking the best play from the Raiders – Broncos game.
How about this? In three attempts at kickoff returns following Raider scores, the Denver Broncos never reached the 25-yard line. Or this: Denver controlled the time-of-possession clock--34:33 to 25:27—and it didn’t matter a bit. Raider fans gleefully took note that the Raider offensive line performed yeoman work while surrendering just two sacks totaling only one yard. They also created something not seen in awhile: an actual hole for Raider running backs to run through. The Silver and Black led the entire game for the first time this season. This game could just as well have been 42 – 10, but Raider fans will take a ten-point win in Denver any day.
If you are looking for individual accolades, start with quarterback Derek Carr. His 341 yards passing belie the touch he put on lofts to Henry Ruggs III (48 yards), Bryan Edwards (51 yards), and Kenyan Drake (31 yards). And when the pass isn’t perfect, Carr gives the receiver the chance to adjust to the football. This writer asks Raider fans the question: is anyone tiring of Mr. Ruggs’ focus as he waits for the aerial pigskin to drop into his superb hands while racing toward the goal line?
Carr also showed a little Rich Gannon in yesterday’s game. When Bryan Edwards failed to adjust to a pass early in the game, Carr pointed at Edwards and then to his eyes--as if to say: "Open your eyes. I put it up there on your back side. Go get it." This leadership by Derek Carr is going to be needed if the Raiders are to make a run for the AFC West crown. Later, Edwards’ third-and-six catch with one hand while streaking down the left sideline was a thing of beauty.
You know what else was a thing of beauty? Three interceptions in one game by Silver-and-Black defenders. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the Raiders made three interceptions in a whole season. Therefore, we should point out the Three Musketeers of Denver: Brandon Facyson (I didn’t even know who Brandon Facyson was—but I do now), Tre’von Moehrig, and Johnathan Abram. Defensive coach Gus Bradley had the defensive backfield ready and willing to snare errant passes that came their way.
But, let’s face it: this was the defensive line’s show, and—with five sacks--they made the most of it. Sacks, hurries, pressures, knockdowns, and just overall intimidation were the Silver-and-Black call signs for the day. Denver QB Terry Bridgewater probably felt like a swimmer paddling among alligators. By the second half, picking himself up yet again from the Denver turf, Mr. Bridgewater looked sixty-six years old—and that is not a pretty sight.
Speaking of pretty sights, 4–2 (and 1-1 against AFC West foes) is a statistic of beauty. Raider fans are still getting to know this team. Asked by pundits after the game to describe the Raiders, Maxx Crosby—who accounted for three sacks on this auspicious day—used the word "resilient."
However, in this writer’s opinion, there is only one word that can embrace the total team effort that resulted in the Raiders’ domination of Denver.
Author, Football’s Blackest Hole