DENVER — The future seems bright in Denver.
After an 0-4 start to the season and another stretch during which the Broncos lost four of five, Vic Fangio and his team rallied to win four of their final five games this season and finish with a 7-9 record.
The change in luck coincided with a switch to rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who guided the Broncos to wins in all but one of his five starts.
In his final start of the season, Lock led the Broncos to a 16-15 win over the Raiders that knocked Oakland from playoff contention and pushed Denver to a second-place finish in the AFC West.
The Broncos led comfortably for most of the second half against the Raiders, but a personal foul on Garett Bolles pushed Denver to the edge of field-goal range with 1:55 to play and the Broncos clinging to a seven-point lead. Brandon McManus missed the ensuing 57-yard attempt, and the Raiders drove for a touchdown that cut the score to 16-15. Shelby Harris knocked down Derek Carr’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt, though, and the Broncos salvaged a win.
These are the players and plays that mattered in a season-ending win over Carr and the Raiders.
The Broncos were drastically outgained in the first half, as the Raiders tallied 251 yards to Denver’s 108. And before the Broncos’ last possession of the half, the game appeared even more unbalanced. With 1:24 to play in the first half, Carr found Marcell Ateman for a 20-yard gain on third-and-5 that moved the ball into Denver territory. At the time of the play, Denver had just 67 yards of total offense. The Raiders had gashed the Broncos through the air for much of the first half, with gains of 75 yards, 33 yards, 22 yards — and the 20-yard gain to Ateman. But safety Trey Marshall ripped the ball free from Ateman near the end of the catch-and-run and returned the ball to the Oakland 41-yard line.
Following the turnover, the Broncos drove 41 yards in six plays to take a 10-3 lead. Despite being outplayed at times in the first half, Denver went to the locker room with a touchdown lead. The Broncos wouldn’t trail again in a 16-15 win.
For a moment, it appeared Hunter Renfrow had given the Raiders a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter. But after a review of the 5-yard scoring play, the touchdown was taken away and the ball was marked inside the Denver 1-yard line. Facing a fourth down, the Raiders chose to go for the touchdown in a do-or-die game for their playoff hopes. From the I-formation, Carr turned and handed the ball to his fullback, Alec Ingold. The Broncos, though, stuffed Ingold just short of the goal line and held the Raiders scoreless on the possession. In the final home game of the season, the crowd erupted and Denver took over on downs.
3 in 3.
Though the Raiders dominated the yardage battle in the first half, they stalled any time they approached the Broncos’ goal line. In three possessions that reached the Broncos’ 20-yard line, the Raiders totaled just three points. On their first drive, Oakland faced a third-and-1 at the Denver 20-yard line as Carr lofted a pass to a wide-open Renfrow. Carr overthrew him, though, and the Raiders were forced to attempt a 39-yard field goal. They missed. On their next possession, a 75-yard pass to Darren Waller moved the ball to the Denver 17-yard line. The Raiders got as close as the 5-yard line before they settled for a 23-yard field goal. Then, on their third possession of the game, Oakland was stopped at the goal line.
Time and time again, the Broncos’ first-ranked red-zone defense held up.
In all, the Raiders wasted an opportunity to go up 21-3 before halftime and instead trailed by a touchdown at the break.
Shelby Harris made the play of the game when he knocked down Carr’s pass on the Raiders’ final offensive play of the game.
Phillip Lindsay didn’t have the best performance of his young career, but he did rush for just enough yards to push him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive season. His 8-yard run in the fourth quarter pushed him over the limit, and he finished with 1,011 for the season. He is the first undrafted running back in NFL history to begin his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, and he is the fourth Broncos running back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
DaeSean Hamilton and Courtland Sutton both showed out at wide receiver. After recording 167 receiving yards in his first 14 games, Hamilton has tallied 130 yards over his last two games. His development with Lock under center could prove pivotal in 2020. Sutton, meanwhile, caught four passes for 52 yards and also drew a handful of penalties, including one that moved the ball to the Oakland 1-yard line that set Denver up for a go-ahead score. Sutton finishes his second season with more than 1,100 yards.
Trey Marshall forced a game-changing turnover in his second start at safety.
Drew Lock again didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he again led the Broncos to key drives as he completed 17-of-27 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. Lock is now 4-1 as a starter, matching Trevor Siemian and Norris Weese for the best record by a Broncos quarterback in his first five career starts. He also posted a higher quarterback rating (94.2) than Carr (89.5).