Finally the NFL regular season is here. For the past eight seasons, the Raiders have been welcomed into the season with a loss -- all that anticipation and high hopes shot down the moment the season began. But not this time. These Raiders were determined to stop that ugly streak at eight and get the season started off with a win over their bitter division rival Broncos.
This win would not come easy. But win they did. It was ugly and messy at times and it certainly couldn't hold a candle to the drubbing of 59 points the Raiders hung on the Broncos last season in Denver. But the formula was the same –- run the ball.
The Raiders ran the ball 39 times to 22 passes. The plan stayed true against the Broncos who hadn't made any significant moves to shore up their 31st ranked run defense. Running set up the passing attack just enough to keep the chains moving, while the Raider defense held the Broncos to just 38 yards on the ground.
But it was mistakes that kept this game close and in the end the better team won. Here is a look at a few of the outstanding performances -– both good and bad.
After just one game of the season, McFadden leads the league in rushing. He had 150 yards in this game which included a 47 yard run and a few runs of 20 yards or more. One of those 20 yard runs came on the Raiders' first touchdown drive, near the end of the first quarter. The ensuing touchdown put the Raiders in the lead 7-3. His second run of 20 yards came near the end of the first half. He had a total of 37 yards rushing on that drive and it resulted in a chipshot field goal to extend the lead to 13-3. In the third quarter McFadden alertly recovered a fumble by Jason Campbell and two plays later, he went over 100 yards rushing. The next time he touched the ball he took it 47 yards to the Denver one yard line and the Raiders would score their second touchdown of the game on the next play. That gave the Raiders 23 points and it would prove to be all they needed to pull out the win.
Every one of his kickoffs sailed out the back of the endzone. Before they moved up the kickoff line, he was a league leader in touchbacks. Now he is just showing off. With a record for returns in this opening weekend, it proves that the new kickoff line helps the return game more than the coverage team. One kick return went 108 yards for a score. So just to be safe, best to kick it where they can't get it. Aside from showing his leg strength on kickoffs, Janikowski showed it in the field goal game as well. With five seconds left in the first half, and the Raiders at the Broncos' 45 yard line, Janikowski was sent out to attempt a 63 yard field goal. It would tie him for the longest field goal in NFL history –- and he nailed it. It started left and then straightened out and cleared the crossbar. It gave the Raiders the lead 16-3 heading into half time. He would make two more field goals from short distances. That long field goal proved to be the difference, with the Raiders winning by three points.
He had just 105 yards on 13 of 22 passing, but he ran the offense with precision and poise. He had two touchdowns (one rushing) and no interceptions. The low passing numbers were more to do with the gameplan against the Broncos which was to run the ball early and often. Campbell has proven to be a master of the play action. With the way the Raiders were churning out the rushing yards, it was working especially well. The first touchdown was a pass to Marcel Reece in the flat that was set up by play action fake. It was a perfectly executed play and pass for an easy score. Just before halftime he did it again, drawing the defense in on a play action and then dropping a pass off to Reece on a screen. The play set up Janikowski for his record 63 yard field goal. In the third quarter, after a fumble by Kyle Orton gave the Raiders the ball near midfield, Campbell started the drive with a nice 16 yard completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Then, with the defense spread out, he handed the ball off to McFadden who scampered to the one yard line. Campbell then took the ball into the endzone on a quarterback sneak. The Raiders ran the ball most the rest of the way, but Campbell had another completion to DHB to give the Raiders a key first down to allow them to kneel down the rest of the way.
The Broncos were going nowhere in this game. As I mentioned, they had just 38 yards on the ground. When Seymour wasn't clogging the middle, he was chasing down the quarterback. He had three solo tackles in this game, two of them sacks and the other a tackle for a short gain. The second of the two sacks came on third and goal from the six yard line. If the Broncos had scored a touchdown, they would have taken the lead 17-16. But the sack forced them to settle for a field goal.
Originally cut and re-signed last week, Giordano was an afterthought coming into the season. He isn't an afterthought any more. His first fine play was when he shot in on a safety blitz to force a quick throw by Orton. The ball was then tipped at the line by Rolando McClain and fell incomplete. The drive ended on the next play. The next time the Broncos got the ball was in the waning minutes of the first half. They were driving and looking to score before halftime until Giordano leapt in front of the receiver to make a gorgeous interception. It stopped the Broncos from scoring and gave the Raiders the ball with 24 seconds in the half. That proved to be all they would need. A penalty and a completion later and Janikowski was lined up to hit his 63 yard field goal. Then in the second half he had solid coverage and the one catch he surrendered, he forced a fumble which the Broncos were able to recover.
The man that every Raider fan loves to hate was at his best again in this game. He had two key blocks on McFadden runs on the Raiders' first touchdown scoring drive. On the next Raider scoring drive, Satele cleared out the middle of the line for Jason Campbell to sneak for a first down. Early in the third quarter he blocked for McFadden to run ten yards for a first down. He finished things off as the blocker on both key Michael Bush first down runs on the final drive to end the game. Equally as important is he didn't have a single penalty or give up any sacks or tackles for loss.
Reece was his usual mismatch in this game but he flashed some fine blocking skills as well. He had several key blocks to help Darren McFadden reach his 150 yard total. He also had a couple of nice plays of his own. He scored the Raiders' first touchdown on a catch in the flat early in the second quarter. He also had a key first down run on that same drive. His next time touching the ball was a 15 yard screen to set up Janikowski to hit his 63 yard field goal before halftime.
He tied for the team lead with five solo tackles, and none bigger than when he forced a fumble early in the second quarter to give the Raiders the ball back one play into the possession. The short field gave Janikowski a chipshot field goal to put the Raiders up by a touchdown 10-3. On the ensuing Broncos possession, Groves helped with containment on a cutback run that resulted in a tackle for loss. Then on the first play of the next Bronco drive he had a tackle for loss of his own. I said earlier this week that the Raiders' linebackers were the key to the run defense on this team. That revolved around Groves improving from last season. It is no accident that he had five solo tackles and the Broncos were held to 38 total rushing yards.
Branch led the team in tackles (5-1), first of all. His first tackle was on a five yard run with the Broncos needing 15 for the first. The drive ended on the next play. On most of his other tackles, he swooped in to save the day and keep the run or catch from turning into a big play. He also didn't give up a single catch on the day and had tight coverage to directly force at least two incompletions. He also had a key fumble recovery early in the second quarter that led to a field goal.
He almost single handedly ended the Broncos' first drive with a three and out. He had a run stuffing tackle on the second play and then a tackle for a loss of six yards on third down to force a punt. On a drive early in the second quarter he had a run stuff and then helped to end the drive when he pressured the quarterback on third down and was held. Orton was pressured into an incompletion and the penalty was declined to force a punt. Then in the fourth quarter, he got the edge on his man and was held again.
Even with Elvis Dumerville back fresh for the Broncos after missing last season and star rookie Von Miller hungry for his first NFL sack, Veldheer held them both off, along with anyone else looking to get to Jason Campbell. He didn't give up a single sack, hit, or pressure from the left tackle spot.
I am still having difficulty with making him a Baller when he has yet to make a good hands catch. But he did lead the Raiders in catches and receiving in this game with 4 for 44 yards. The first one was the longest catch of the day for any Raider. That isn't saying a lot considering it went for just 16 yards, but it set the Raiders up on the Broncos' 48 yard line and the next play, McFadden ran it 47 yards to the Broncos one yard line. Heyward-Bey's most important catch came on the Raiders' final drive. It went for nine yards and was one of three first downs to help clinch the win.
Stephon Heyer, Khalif Barnes
After one game, the Raiders have a commanding "lead" in the penalty department in the NFL. They had 15 penalties in this game for 131 yards. Heyer and Barnes were both major contributors to that ugly total. Heyer actually got the start which was surprising after Barnes had been the starter through all of camp and preseason and was announced as the starter by Hue Jackson.
On the Raiders' first drive he had two false starts in a row. The Raiders were in third and short (3) and suddenly they were in third and long (13). A few plays later, Barnes gave up a run stuff tackle for no gain. Luckily the Raiders were able to overcome it and score their first touchdown.
Later, in the second quarter with the Raiders at the 8 yard line and looking to score, Barnes had his patented false start. It put the Raiders in a hole they could dig out of and they had to settle for a field goal. Barnes then got the third quarter started off by giving up a run stuff. The next drive, Heyer was back, and on the first play of the series he gave up a sack and a fumble on Jason Campbell. Luckily the Raiders recovered but the drive still ended with a three and out. That was it but that was certainly enough. What is it with the Raiders' right tackle position?
Routt played well at times and made a few plays. But in the most pivotal moments of this game is when he made his biggest mistakes. He was also one of the biggest contributors to the penalty total. His first was when he was called for holding midway through the second quarter. Later, he and Jerome Boyd wer both shaken out of their shoes on a catch out of the backfield that resulted in a 24 yard catch and run. It was the largest gain on the drive that resulted in a Bronco field goal. A few drives later he was called for a 21 yard pass interference penalty. Then on the next drive, on a key third down and ten, he gave up a 15 yard catch. It was the longest play on a drive that resulted in a touchdown to bring the Broncos to within three points. Luckily the offense was able to keep the ball to hold on to the three point lead and the win.
The Raiders were desperately trying to get the ball into the hands of their playmaker from last season. The first time he saw the ball was on the first play of the game. He caught a 12 yard pass and fumbled it away. So despite the Broncos totaling 1 yard of offense, they were up 3-0 to start the game. Two plays later, the Raiders pulled a little trickery and on an option run, McFadden pitched to Ford. But Ford bobbled the pitch and once he gained control, he was unable to get out of the backfield for a loss of three. He had three catches for 22 yards and one carry for negative three. That means his best catch was a fumble and his one carry was a loss for a grand total of seven yards of offense and spotting the Broncos three points to begin the game.
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