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Running Out of Steam

Posted Dec 19, 2010

The Broncos battled the Raiders into the fourth quarter on Sunday in Oakland but couldn't finish strong in a 39-23 loss.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- For much of a rainy, blustery Sunday afternoon at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Broncos worked on a strong bid to finish the rival Raiders' playoff hopes and score a much-needed win.

Instead, a lackluster final 15 minutes ensured that Denver only came away with another reminder of a lesson that has become all-too-familiar.

With an offense sparked by rookie quarterback Tim Tebow and an opportunisitic defense, the Broncos positioned themselves for a win in their road finale. But Oakland scored 19 of the game's last 22 points to hand the Broncos a 39-23 loss, leaving Denver mulling the same lessons that have marked a string of struggles that has grown to include 11 losses in 12 games.

"I thought we played hard, gave effort, but in this league, playing hard isn't good enough," Mario Haggan said. "You've got to finish."

Tebow came up with a pair of touchdowns -- one rushing and one passing -- in his starting debut and the Broncos defense forced three first-half turnovers, but the Raiders landed the decisive blows to seize a largely back-and-forth contest.

With the Raiders (7-7) up three early in the fourth quarter, Marcel Reese took a short pass and zipped up the right sideline untouched for a 73-yard touchdown. Soon, Quentin Groves dragged down Correll Buckhalter in the end zone for a safety and Michael Bush plunged in from a yard out to help the Raiders finish the home win and improve to 5-0 against AFC West opponents this season.

Coupled with a disappointing finish in last week's 44-13 loss in Arizona, the Broncos (3-11) have been outscored a combined 40-13 in their last two final quarters.

"I thought up until the third quarter we were playing well, we were playing physically, we were matching their energy, we were matching their effort," Interim Head Coach Eric Studesville said. "That's what we've got to build on from there. We've got to make sure that we keep coming to play and we play four quarters."

The Raiders -- 59-14 winners in Denver on Oct. 24 -- wore down the Broncos, ultimately outgaining the visitors 502 yards to 235 yards. Oakland scored on four of five possessions before they were able to end their final drive with quarterback Jason Campbell kneeling to run out the clock.

Led by Darren McFadden's 119-yard rushing performance, Oakland racked up 264 yards on the ground. In two games against Oakland this season, Denver ceded 592 rushing yards to the Raiders.

"From my eyes on the defensive side, we let up at the end, and that hurts," Nate Jones said.

Denver seemed ready to battle from the outset -- necessary after allowing Raiders wide receiver Jacoby Ford loose on a 71-yard touchdown run on the home team's first offensive play from scrimmage. Instead of allowing the tough start to snowball as in the earlier loss to Oakland, the Broncos quickly bounced back.

Kevin Vickerson got it started with his first career interception. Tebow, who became the 12th rookie starting quarterback in Broncos history when Kyle Orton couldn't go because of injured ribs, followed with some magic of his own.

The 2010 first-round pick sprinted up the middle on a third-down quarterback draw, shedding a defender near the goal line and carrying another into the end zone on a 40-yard touchdown run -- the longest for a quarterback in Broncos' history.

"It definitely gave me and the team a lot of momentum," Tebow said of the play. "I think that was one of the biggest things from it, just the juice factor off of it -- getting everybody excited."

After Jason Hunter got into the backfield and forced a Darren McFadden fumble, Tebow hit Brandon Lloyd on a 33-yard touchdown. The score needed to be challenged to earn the touchdown after Lloyd kept concentration to pull in a tipped ball in the back of the end zone while sliding out of bounds.

After three-and-outs on his first two drives under center, Tebow guided scoring marches on five of the team's next 10 possessions. In all, the quarterback finished 8-of-16 passing for 138 yards and added eight rushes for 78 yards and two total scores.

Even with top running back Knowshon Moreno out with a side injury for the final three quarters, the quarterback turned in a performance that gained postgame approval from his teammates and coach.

"(Tebow) handled the entire environment well for us," Studesville said. "He managed the offense, he called everything, he got us in and out of checks and he ran our offense, which is what a quarterback needs to do."

But the former Heisman Trophy winner's debut ultimately finished with a loss because after that burst, the Broncos never sustained significant momentum again.

There were some bright spots, such as Renaldo Hill's second-quarter interception and Steven Hauschka's three field goals, but Denver didn't visit the end zone in the final three quarters.

While the Raiders kept their chance for a division crown alive with the win, the Broncos know they have just two more opportunities to reverse their recent struggles. With two home games to close the season, Jabar Gaffney said they owe the fans some good performances, starting Sunday against Houston.

The veteran said another tough loss provides all the motivation the team needs to make sure that happens.

"Losing stinks, period," Gaffney said. "We were in it, we had our chances and we didn't get it done again."