As surprising as this win may have been for many NFL fans, beating the Broncos on Sunday fit right in with the Raiders M.O. the past few seasons. Stop me if this sounds familiar. Better yet, don't stop me because this should all sound very familiar. The lowly Raiders head into Denver and knock off the playoff hopeful Broncos late in the season. They also beat two other playoff calibre teams and finish off the season strong after struggling mightily in the first half. Those few sentences can be used to describe the Raiders last season or this season. Last season it was the Texans and Bucs they beat to go along with the Broncos and this season it is the Bengals and Steelers. The one common denominator is the Broncos-- who they have beaten late in the season three years in a row now.
Few games mean more than those against the hated Broncos and no win offers more satisfaction. All things considered, the Raiders didn't play all that spectacularly in this game. They did what they needed to do and didn't dig themselves any large holes. After that It was simply a matter of which team would outlast the other. In this case, the Raiders seemed like they just wanted it more. And in the end, they would pull out the win by one point; 20-19.
Nearly every player on the team showed heart, passion, energy and all the intangibles that are necessary for a downtrodden team to rise above. And with that in mind, let's give props to those who willed this team to win and those to threatened to stifle that effort.
He is an absolute beast. The Raiders have had a total of four 100 yard rushers in the last two seasons and the last three of them were Michael Bush. He relentlessly picked up large chunks of yardage in this game. The first time he put his hands on the ball he ran it 23 yards for a touchdown. That Bush TD gave the Raiders the lead 7-6 and instantly shifted the momentum. Bush was given the ball quite a few more times after that nice run and he continued to shred the Denver defense. Two drives later with the Raiders up 10-6, he had a first down run, a 13 yard run on third down to pick up another first down and a hard fought run in which he juked one tackler and broke another tackle on his was to 12 yards and another first down. The Raiders would finish the drive with another field goal to build the lead to 13-6 heading into halftime. The first Raider posession of the second half, he caught a pass in the flat and rumbled for 11 yards and a first down but the drive ended at midfield when Darren McFadden fumbled the ball away. After the Broncos took the short field and turned it into a touchdown, Bush went back to work. The first play of the next drive he took the handoff for 18 yards. The next play he ran for 40 yards to put the Raiders in scoring position. The drive ended when Cable elected to go for it on fourth down at the three yard line and McFadden couldn't punch it in. But the Broncos were demoralized by that point. Bush ended the day with 18 carries for 133 yards (7.4 ypc) and a touchdown. Is there any question who should be the starter for the Raiders at this point? There shouldn't be.
He was only credited with two tackles on the game which makes me wonder what game these stat collectors were watching. The first tackle of the game for the Raiders was Asomugha coming up and stuffing the Broncos running back at the line. Tyvon Branch was credited for it but I watched the play several times and it was Aso that did it with Branch coming in afterward to help out. Nnamdi's second big play, he fought through blockers and nailed a tackle eligible Ryan Clady in the backfield for a three yard loss. But Clady was called for illegal touching and so the Broncos actually came out the better for it. After the five yard penalty, they only lost two more yards but got the down over again. The first play of the second half, Asomugha came up and stuffed a run for no gain. And yet again, just like the first defensive play of the game, Tyvon Branch was given the credit for it. Trust me, I know the difference between #33 and #21. That was Aso that made that tackle. Later in that same drive he had tight coverage which caused a high throw incompletion. The drive would end on the next play. Then the first play after the McFadden fumble, Asomugha nailed Knowshon Moreno in the backfield for a 4 yard loss. And THIS time there was no denying that it was Nnamdi that made the tackle. Later in the same drive with the Broncos at the 6 yard line looking to score, he had tight coverage on Marshall to force Kyle Orton to throw the ball away. Unfortunately the Broncos would score on the next play. But on the next Denver possession, the Broncos drove to the Raider 2 yard line and were threatening to score. Nnamdi blanketed Marshall again causing Orton to throw the ball away. But this time they would be held out of the end zone and settled for a field goal. That was the last score the Broncos would get. Holding them out of the end zone proved to be the difference in the game.
He had the Raiders' first catch of the game and the last catch. The first one was of considerably less import. It was a 6 yard catch on third and 7 forcing a punt. His last catch was the most important catch of the entire game. It was a five yard crossing pattern that he caught and pushed five more yards into the end zone to give the Raiders the game winning touchdown. He also had two other catches on that same game winning drive. The first was a 13 yard come backer to set the Raiders up with first down at the 10 yard line. The second was a short catch in which the Broncos were called for illegal contact to give the Raiders another first down at the 5 yard line. He led the team in catches with 5 and while he had just 37 yards on those catches, the 23 yards he had on the final drive were possibly the most important yards of the game for the Raiders.
Greg Ellis, Matt Shaughnessy
I grouped these two together because they tag teamed the Broncos from the right defensive end spot to perfection. They came in an out depending on the situation but no matter what you needed from them, they came through. What a combo they have become. Ellis got it started off when he pressured Orton into an incomplete pass on the Broncos second play from scrimmage. Then on the Broncos next drive it was Shaughnessy who bulled into the Broncos backfield to sack Orton for a five yard loss. After a quiet second quarter for both of them, they came back to life in the third quarter. On the very first play, Shaughnessy held the line to stretch the running back to the sideline and force a tackle for no gain on the play. Then later in the drive he had a run stuff at the line. After the Raiders failed to convert on a fourth down, the Broncos would take over at the 1 yard line. On the first play they ran right at Shaughnessy who shed his blocker to nearly stuff Moreno for a safety. Two plays later, the Broncos would have to punt out of their own end zone. On the Broncos next drive attempt, Shaughnessy had another run stuffing tackle for a loss. Then he tagged Greg Ellis to come in and finish it off. And he did just that. The first play of the Broncos next possession, Ellis held his gap to allow William Joseph to stuff a run for no gain. Then on the next play he broke free to the quarterback and sacked him for a 9 yard loss. The drive would end with a much needed 3 and out as the Raiders' offense would get the ball with just 3:25 left to play. After the Raiders took 2:50 to march down and score the go-ahead touchdown, the Broncos would have :35 seconds to try and mount a drive into field goal range. But Ellis would have none of it. He shot into the backfield on first down, sacked Orton, and knocked the balled out of his hands for a 7 yard loss. Facing a second and 17 on their own 15 yard line and just :23 seconds left on the clock, was too steep of a hill to climb. Ball game.
The Raiders needed two field goals and that's what he gave them. The Raiders' weak kick coverage teams needed touchbacks and that's what he gave them. One of his field goals was from 54 yards out for his longest of the season. And he made it look like a 34 yarder as per usual. He had five kickoffs on the day; four of which were touchbacks and three of those went out of the back of the end zone. Somebody check to see if that football still has the laces on it.
He led the team in solo tackles, which as I have said many times before, doesn't mean much all by itself. But, I don't think I have ever seen him so fired up before. He was certainly playing the role of middle linebacker in this game. He was riling up his fellow defenders and getting in the face of Bronco players everytime he made a play. He was chewing Knowshon Moreno's ear on several occasions and with good reason. Moreno could only gain 42 yards on 19 carries (2.2 ypc) in the game and Morrison was making his life miserable. Afterall, of Morrison's 8 solo tackles, 6 were on Moreno for a total of 13 rushing yards-- Ouch.
I have often said that the one thing Cable has going for him is his players want to play well for him. The main pieces missing up to now were discipline and the hope that their efforts would not be in vain. These Raiders brought the entire package on Sunday and you can add smart play calling to that package as well. The defense was highly motivated and the offense overcame it's weaknesses (the Oline) to have a solid game. I think going for it on fourth down at the 3 yard line was a good call. And the ensuing play was the right move as well. With three yards to gain, a pitch to McFadden to get him in the open field is a move that has paid off before. The Broncos just covered it well and with three defenders to meet McFadden at the goal line, he couldn't get in. But even without the touchdown, the Broncos set up on their own one yard line and after nearly getting stuck in the end zone for a safety, and a three and out, would punt out of their own end zone to give the Raiders good field position. That is smart football. But my favorite play call of the day came just before halftime on third and nine. Cable called a quick draw in which Frye faked a pass to Murphy at the line and quickly handed the ball to Bush and he ran it right up the middle for 13 yards. It was just tricky enough and it fooled the Broncos linebackers just enough while Bush shot for a first down. The drive ended with a field goal and the Raiders went into the lockeroom up 13-6. And yes, I am geeking out about a quick draw run play for 13 yards. And proud of it.
He didn't play great and he had a fumble in his short amount of time in the game. But when you engineer a game winning drive, you earn at very least a little pat on the back.
Had a nice game overall which alone is not worth of being called a Baller. He gets honorable mention primarily for nailing Brandon Marshall on the second to last play of the game to knock to ball out of his hands and seal the victory.
I have run out of ways to lament Green poor play. Several times in this game, he was just abused by his defender. The running backs dared not try runs to the right tackle slot because there usually wasn't a slot there to run through. Not to mention the obvious fact that Frye was given no time to throw on nearly every pass play. Green's problems really started in the second quarter. The Raiders got the ball after a nice defensive stand. Then after a roughing the passer penalty on the Broncos, Cornell couldn't get push on his man and gave up a run stuff. It was a timely short catch on the next play that would get Seabass in range to hit his 55 yard field goal. Green's next mistake would be the most costly. With the Raiders in third and goal at the 1 yard line, he was pushed into the Raider backfield causing Michael Bush to run into him while trying to get the corner. The result was a loss of two yards to set up fourth and goal at the 3 yard line. A distance the Raiders couldn't cover and they would be held scoreless on the drive. He was just brutal on the Raiders final drive and it's a miracle the Raiders were able to overcome it. On the very first play of the Raiders' final drive, he was burnt by the pass rusher who hit Russell, causing him to fumble the ball. The Raiders luckily recovered but only after a 13 yard loss. What was first and ten with 62 yards ahead of them was now second and 23 with 75 yards to cover. It was thanks to a pass interference penalty on the next play that the Raiders were able to dig out of that hole. But Cornell had more in store. The Raiders were forced to go for it on fourth and ten and he gave up pressure on Russell who had to throw his pass while falling backward and somehow completed it for a first down. Three completions later, the Raiders were set up with first and goal at the 5 yard line. Cue Cornell Green and his subsequent obligatory false start penalty to back them up 5 yards. But when it happens enough, I suppose you just expect it. Hence the 10 yard touchdown pass two plays later.
He had some good plays in this game which is what makes is so difficult to call him a Buster. But in the end, he belongs here because, while there were only a few big plays by the Broncos in this game, Routt was the one victimized on the two biggest. His miscues also far outweighed his highlights. His problems started after halftime so I am guessing that the Broncos saw something he was or wasn't doing and wanted to take advantage of it. The second play of the third quarter, the Broncos split tight end Tony Scheffler out wide and Routt was defending him. But despite the fact that he was defending a tight end, Routt gave him ten yard cushion. Orton saw this and quickly passed the ball to Scheffler and he ran for an easy 9 yard gain. The Broncos would QB sneak to pick up the first down on the next play. A few plays later on third and 2, Routt gave up a 4 yard firt down catch to keep the drive alive. The drive would end in the Broncos third field goal. The Broncos started their next drive at the 50 yard line, and two straight defensive stops would have set the Broncos up in third and long but Routt was called for illegal contact to give the Broncos an automatic first down. Later in the drive with the Broncos in third and goal at the 6 yard line, Routt gave up the Broncos only touchdown to Brandon Marshall right at the goal line. The next Bronco possession Routt made his biggest mistake when Brandon Stokley caught a slant pass right in front of him and took it for 62 yards. Routt eventually caught Stokley but he had to horse collar tackle him to stop him from scoring. After the gain and the penalty, the Broncos would set up at the 2 yard line. Thanks to some nice defensive plays after that, the Broncos would settle for a field goal to keep the Raiders within one score. But for those who were counting, Routt gave up drive sustaining plays that resulted in 13 of the Broncos' 19 points on the day. And it should have been even worse.
I commend him for a tremendous block to help open the hole that Michael Bush ran through to score his touchdown. But with that out of the way, there is not much else to be happy about with his play. The Raiders' second possession of the first quarter ended with a Charlie Frye interception on a high arching wounded duck. The reason for the ill advised pass was because Frye was about to be obliterated by an oncoming rusher that Walker allowed to run right by him. The ensuing short field helped greatly in the Broncos getting their second straight field goal. To start the second quarter, he was blown up on two straight plays. The first one, he gave up a run stuff on McFadden and the second he didn't stay in his gap on a safety blitz that resulted in a tackle for loss. On the Raiders' first drive of the third quarter he was manhandled by his defender and gave up a tackle for no gain on Bush. On the Raiders' final drive of the game, JP Losman came into the game for one play when JaMarcus Russell was shaken up. The Raiders set up in a four wide receiver set and Losman dropped back to pass but no sooner did he get his feet set but he had Walker's man in his face forcing him to throw into the turf to keep from getting sacked. I suppose we should just be happy it isn't Chris Morris playing left guard though right? We miss you Robert Gallery .