In Chris Harris Jr.'s mind, his offense needed two minutes to mount a game-winning drive.
So when he and the rest of the defense took the field with 5:58 remaining and got off of it four minutes later, he knew he had done his job. He had no doubt Case Keenum and the offense would do the rest.
“We had confidence,” Harris said. “Once we got that stop, we just needed to give [the offense] about two minutes to go score. Once we got that stop, it was over for them. They couldn’t guard us.”
The stop certainly didn’t come easily, though. Getting off the field against a quarterback that completed over 90 percent of his passes and a running back that’s among the strongest in the league is a tall task.
The drive started at the Raiders’ 25-yard line. The visitors picked a first down two plays later to move to their own 36. With 4:30 left, Oakland took a timeout with a fresh set of downs. The defense was down to two-and-a-half minutes to reach its goal.
Two plays later, Denver was set up with its first chance to get off the field: A third-and-1 at the Oakland 45-yard line.
The defense hit Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Lynch powered forward. It was enough — by about half of a football — for another first down.
“The Raiders did a good job today of running the football well on first downs,” Harris said. “That really messed us up to where we couldn’t get third-and-longs. We just knew if we gave them two minutes they would score.”
With those tough runs, Lynch finished the day with 65 yards. But he needed 18 carries to get to that total, an average of just 3.6 yards per carry. His longest rush went for just 11 yards.
“He really is ‘Beast Mode,’” said Von Miller, referencing Lynch’s nickname, earned from his physical running style. “I looked up, hit him at the line of scrimmage, and they needed two or three yards for a first down. Marshawn is a hell of a player. We all know that. He was in full effect today. Whatever yards we kept him to, it was a great job by us too.”
Lynch’s last first down came with 2:55 remaining. It set up one final set of downs for the Broncos’ defense to make a stop and give its offense a chance.
Earlier stops would have left the offense the luxury of more time and perhaps a timeout or two to use. With 2:55 left, a stop was no longer a luxury for the offense. A stop was an absolute necessity.
Lynch rumbled for 6 yards on first down, but the Raiders backed up 5 yards with a false start. A short run from Doug Martin, swallowed up by Domata Peko Sr., left the Raiders facing third-and-6. It was one of Peko’s five individual tackles, tied for the most he’s had since 2010.
“We knew today was going to be a tough game,” Peko said. “They have one of the best [offensive lines] in the business. We knew we had to go out there and attack them. It all started on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Today was fun.”
The Broncos brought pressure on Carr, and he got the ball out of his hands quickly, just like he had done all game. Amari Cooper caught the ball, but Bradley Roby stopped him with a quick break on the ball and a sure open-field tackle.
The stop had been made, and not a moment too soon. The Broncos got the ball back at the two-minute warning, meeting Harris’ goal.
“We all-out blitzed them,” Harris said. “We were in zero coverage, so he had to get the ball out fast. We forced him to get that ball out fast. ... He threw it fast, exactly what we wanted him to do.”
A week after clinching a win over Seattle with a late interception, the defenders were able to watch Keenum and Brandon McManus complete the comeback from the sideline
“It felt good,” said Harris of seeing the game-winning drive unfold. “That’s the first time in a long time. … We were confident we could win that game.”
For the second straight week, the Broncos’ defense needed to get a late stop to get a win.
And for the second straight week, it did exactly that.