OAKLAND, Calif. Most of the focus on Denver heading into the season opener was on how coach Vic Fangio and quarterback Joe Flacco would fare in their Broncos debut.
There seemed to be few questions surrounding the strength of the team in star pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
But with that dangerous duo neutralized by an improved Oakland offensive line led by big-ticket free agent Trent Brown, the Broncos came out flat in the opener and lost 24-16 to the Raiders on Monday night, ending the NFL’s longest opening week winning streak at seven games.
”I was extremely disappointed in the loss but not discouraged,” Fangio said after his first game as an NFL head coach. ”Once you see some of the mistakes we made, or plays we didn’t make, that we can see we can be better than we played tonight.”
The offense led by Flacco struggled to close out drives and didn’t reach the end zone until the closing minutes, settling for field goals on three earlier trips to the red zone. The special teams allowed a long kick return that set up Oakland’s last score.
But the most surprising aspect of the game was the lack of pass rush from Miller and Chubb. The Raiders allowed 52 sacks last season and it figured they would have trouble dealing with that tandem, even after adding Brown at right tackle in free agency to team with second-year left tackle Kolton Miller.
But Miller and Chubb never even got close to Derek Carr as the Broncos recorded no sacks and no quarterback hits the entire game. Carr mostly got rid of the ball quickly but did hold onto it for a few deep shots and went 22 for 26 for 259 yards against a defense that should be one of the better ones in the league.
”My job is to sack the quarterback and I didn’t get to him once, not even a quarterback hit,” Miller said. ”Disappointed in myself on an individual level. They were throwing the ball quick, but we have to find a way to get there.”
The offense predictably struggled at times as Flacco looked more like the quarterback who wore out his welcome in Baltimore the last couple of years than the one who was a Super Bowl MVP following the 2012 season. Denver struggled to get much going at all early in the game, going three-and-out on its first drive and failing to score any points in the first half.
Flacco took a sack to knock Denver out of field goal range in the second quarter and a holding penalty late in the half on rookie tight end Noah Fant forced Brandon McManus into a 64-yard try off the infield dirt that fell short.
The offense picked it up in the second half with scores on four of five possessions. But an inability to finish those drives with touchdowns ultimately proved to be the difference.
”As ugly as it was for us in the first half, we fought really hard,” Flacco said. ”At the end of the day it ended up being they were able to score when they got the ball down there and keep the momentum of the drive and we weren’t.”
Denver drove down to the 6 on the first drive of the third quarter before Flacco was sacked by Benson Mayowa on third down, leading to a field goal.
The Broncos drove inside the 10 again on the next drive but DaeSean Hamilton dropped a pass in the end zone on third down, leading to another field goal.
Flacco took a third sack on third-and-2 from the 14 in the fourth quarter, leading to Denver’s third field goal of the night and by the time the Broncos finally scored a touchdown on Flacco’s 1-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders with 2:15 to play it wasn’t enough.
”I didn’t see much that was good obviously,” Fangio said of the red-zone offense. ”We didn’t make the plays down there. That was really a big difference in the game in spite of everything else. They scored touchdowns and we didn’t.”
Fangio opted to kick it deep with his team trailing by eight and holding three timeouts, but the Raiders converted two first downs and ran out the clock.
”Disappointed but we’re not discouraged,” Miller said. ”First game of the season. Hats off to the Raiders, they outplayed us today.”