DENVER —** After the Broncos stumbled to a 15-12 loss to Oakland, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall was at a loss for words, and for good reason.
Allowing just one drive all game that was longer than 22 yards, the defense couldn't play much better, especially with four key players—safeties T.J. Ward, David Bruton Jr., Omar Bolden and ILB Danny Trevathan—out tending to injuries.
In spite of those significant absences, the Broncos held the NFL's No. 8 team in average yards per play to just a 2.3-yard average and put together the most defensively dominant half any team has had all year.
Oakland concluded the first half with an astounding minus-12 yards; QB Derek Carr's passing attempts (eight) outnumbered the yards they gained (seven) while the Raiders rushed five times for five yards; and DE Derek Wolfe and OLB Von Miller combined to take the Raiders back 24 yards on two sacks.
The Broncos certainly seemed like they were headed for a dominant home win against a division rival.
"Negative-12 yards -- [I've] never had a first half like that," Marshall said. "I call it pure domination."
It's hard to argue otherwise, and the defense had created a sense of security with how well it played. Sure, the offense wasn't able to fully capitalize on its long drives, but the defense pitching a shutout had allowed the Broncos to control the game.
"We knew what we were doing," DE Malik Jackson said. "We had a good plan going in; we knew we stopped them. We can't worry about putting up points; all we can do is stop their offense. It's one of those things as a defense we felt good; we just wanted to go out there and continue what we were doing, and I think we did."
What the photographers saw in the Broncos' first loss to the Raiders since 2011.
Oakland cut into the lead quickly after halftime, though, driving 85 yards for a touchdown. Carr exploited momentary weaknesses in the secondary with two-thirds of the safety rotation having been added in the previous two weeks, finding TE Clive Walford for a 29-yard gain and a 25-yard gain before capping the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to WR Seth Roberts.
No other drive would produce more than one first down, but after a muffed punt gave the Raiders the ball at the Broncos' 11-yard line, Carr threw a strike to TE Mychal Rivera for the go-ahead touchdown.
Denver had completely stuffed Oakland more often than not, forcing seven three-and-outs, but the defense wasn't able to force a turnover to help the offense find help with a short field. If there's any kind of deficiency, that was pretty much it, and it was an extremely miniscule part of a nearly immaculate day.
"I mean, I'm not going to say you can't get turnovers every game… I don't know," Marshall said. "I don't even know what to say right now, honestly."
With such a stark difference from the first half to the second, it was the kind of loss that leaves one practically speechless, but the Broncos know they can't take any solace in how well one phase played in that game.
"It's a team game," Jackson said. "You just can't go out there and say, 'Well, the defense did good.' That doesn't matter. You need the special teams and offense and defense to do good. So it's one of those things where all three phases didn't get it done today."