OAKLAND --As the first half neared completion at O.co Coliseum Sunday, the Broncos languished. The offense, stuck in neutral, lumbered under the weight of execution errors. The defense held the Raiders down, only hamstrung by the short fields that set up two scores.
It felt similar to the situation in which the Broncos found themselves seven days earlier in New England. But this time, they abruptly reversed course, thanks to a rookie nickelback and a second-year runner who had just eight carries in the previous six games.
Together, Bradley Roby's interception and C.J. Anderson's defender-dodging, cross-field odyssey through the Oakland defense shattered any notions of an upset for the ages, igniting a 35-0 explosion that restored the Broncos to their usual form in what ended up being a 41-17 romp.
Others had more big plays. Tight end Julius Thomas scored twice; so did wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Quarterback Peyton Manning threw five touchdown passes, and seized the league lead with 29 for the season.
But none had the profound impact of what Roby and Anderson accomplished in a 53-second span. On a team with talent in spots it continues to discover, they pointed the Broncos to a win that restored order after the previous week's thrashing and the edgy, intense week that followed.
"You need guys to step up and make plays," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "C.J. made a lot of good plays for us out there. And it's what we needed to really get us going."
Until that moment, the Broncos' dominance only showed up on the statistical sheet. Denver had an 11-4 advantage in first downs, a 168-76 edge in yardage gained and averaged 1.86 more yards on every snap. But Oakland intercepted two passes, which led to 10 points, which extended the issues of the previous week, in which New England racked up 24 of 43 points on special teams or short fields set up by takeaways.
It had been nearly five full, frustrating quarters.
Check out photos from Sunday's game as the Broncos renew their rivalry with the Raiders.
And the Broncos had endured enough. Enough chatter about what the team lost at New England. Enough self-doubt. Enough reflection, both from themselves and via a speech from Executive Vice President and General Manager John Elway.
"He challenged the whole team," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "He challenged us to play better and come out and execute better. He knows we didn't execute to our standards, so we wanted to come out and make [the Raiders] pay."
Finally, with Roby's interception, they did it. Pressure from both edges forced Oakland quarterback Derek Carr into an errant throw that sailed behind intended target Mychal Rivera and into Roby's waiting hands.
"Sometimes the offense needs that. We've got to get a turnover to get them going," Roby said. "Sometimes they need to get jump-started."
And no spark plug fired as explosively as Anderson. Three plays after Roby's interception, Anderson caught a swing pass from Manning in the left flat, four yards behind the line of scrimmage.
He did not expect the football.
"[Manning] obviously was in trouble, because I didn't even get a chance to finish my route," Anderson said. "Next thing you know he threw it and I caught it."
But it looked like other third-down passes destined to fall short of the line to gain.
"It easily could have been, maybe a catch for minus-two yards," said Manning.
Oakland linebacker Miles Burris had missile lock on Anderson, but missed, only grabbing the running back's waist as he scooted by.
That got Anderson back to the line of scrimmage. Still eight yards to go, and now, rookie sensation Khalil Mack bore down upon Anderson, having escaped from a duel with left tackle Ryan Clady. But Anderson threw his right arm at the 252-pound Mack, and kept him at bay.
He accelerated toward the sideline, trying to avoid Oakland safety Charles Woodson, a childhood idol he watched when attending Raiders games at the Coliseum while growing up. Woodson's lunge only got Anderson's midsection as he sprinted forward.
Three Raiders linchpins, all left grasping. But Anderson was focused ahead, not on the rabble of silver and black left in his wake.
"When I broke two tackles, I said, 'I've got a chance for the first down,'" Anderson said. "But when I saw (Demaryius Thomas) and Wes (Welker) screaming down the field, I was like, 'You know I can cut back.'"
At the Oakland 32, Anderson cut. Yet another Raiders defender sprawled. He took a 45-degree angle toward the center of the field, then added another 15 degrees to avoid to Raiders. Thomas got out in front with a block at the Oakland 7. Welker became his escort.
He crossed the goal line with the 51-yard touchdown, standing 68 yards on a diagonal angle from where he began. He traversed far more yardage than that.
"That was as fine a play as I've seen so far this season, I have to tell you," said Manning.
And it was the fuel that powered the Broncos. The rest of the game offered little doubt over whether the Broncos would win; only the degree of the defeat was in questions. The "self-inflicted wounds" of last week and Sunday in Oakland, as Manning described them, healed.
The challenge of adversity was met. More will meet the Broncos, of course, and some of it will be of their own creation; that is inevitable, even for the best of teams.
But the Broncos have so many players capable of grabbing a game by the throat and turning it around, as Anderson and Roby did. Neither is officially a starter. But together, both jump-started a stalled team and guided it back to the road after a nearly-two-game detour.