DENVER --Clouds built and the score tightened, but by the end of the afternoon, the Broncos had their second divisional win of the season, hitting the bye with a crucial 16-10 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Why did the win happen?
Because the Broncos continued their run of strong starts**
Slow starts were an issue last year, but so far this season, the Broncos have been the league's best first-quarter team, outscoring their foes 27-0 through four weeks.
After a first-series three-and-out, the Broncos sprinted to the lead they would hold for the rest of the game on their next possession, dashing 88 yards in seven plays to a 22-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian to A.J. Derby. Derby and wide receiver Bennie Fowler III propelled the Broncos downfield, providing all but two of the yards on that series.
The offense tacked on a field goal on its next series, a 79-yard march that gave the Broncos the cushion it needed to hang on the rest of the way.
Because the interior targets came up big
Derby and Fowler combined for 110 yards on six receptions Sunday, leading the way for the Broncos. As was the case in Week 1, the interior targets represented reliable options -- especially early in the game -- to keep the chains moving.
"When you're facing a lot of cover-two or shell coverage, [Demaryius Thomas] and [Emmanuel Sanders] are really taken out of the ballgame, so it opens up windows for Derby, and that's his role for our football team, to win inside coverage in zones versus safeties and linebackers," Joseph said.
Because the Broncos continued running the football effectively**
C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker combined to accumulate 142 rushing yards on 28 attempts as the Broncos continued their consistent ground work of the first three weeks.
The Broncos won their 22nd consecutive regular-season game when rushing for 125 or more yards.
Because the Broncos made the Raiders one-dimensional
As they did to the Chargers, Cowboys and Bills in Weeks 1-3, the Broncos dominated at the line of scrimmage and prevented a foe from establishing a running game, holding the Raiders to 24 yards on 15 attempts -- a meager 1.6 yards per carry.
"It's extremely hard [to overcome], especially if you're a run-first offense like the Raiders are," Joseph said. "But again, our run defense has been stout the entire year. With a back like [Marshawn Lynch] and an offensive line like that, that's really special, to [hold them to] 24 yards."
The Broncos have allowed just 203 rushing yards through four games -- the fewest allowed by the Broncos to this point in the season in team history. The average of 2.42 yards per carry allowed is also the lowest permitted by the Broncos to this point in a season.
"Defensively, we played really stout today, outside of the two big plays -- and the one, obviously, for the [64-yard] touchdown," Joseph said. "We can't do that, but I'm very pleased with our defense."
Because the Broncos played the field-position game well**
Outstanding work by punter Riley Dixon and the Broncos' punt-coverage team forced the Raiders to begin three possessions from inside of their 15-yard line, including two that began inside the Oakland 10.
But the biggest thing that helped the Broncos get the better of the field-position battle was by avoiding the turnovers that plagued them in the first three weeks. Opponents started eight possessions in Denver territory during September, five of which were set up by giveaways. Sunday, the Raiders began all of their possessions on their side of midfield.
The Broncos, conversely, began two of their drives in Oakland territory thanks to a 29-yard Isaiah McKenzie punt return that was a set up by a Derek Wolfe third-down sack and a successful read of Marquette King's fake punt that saw Jordan Taylor bring down Oakland's punter at the Raiders' 30-yard line. A subsequent unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when King threw the ball at a cluster of Broncos after the play gave Denver the football at the Oakland 15.
But Denver's offense struggled in the red zone throughout the day, and could only convert these two opportunities into a single Brandon McManus field goal. Denver got no touchdowns and just three field goals from four red-zone trips on the day.
"It wasn't very good," Joseph said of the Broncos' red-zone offense. "We were 0-for-4, and it's really self-inflicted wounds."
Because Justin Simmons played the last possession perfectly
Simmons read E.J. Manuel's intent perfectly and got in position for his first interception of the season -- and the Broncos' first takeaway since the final minute of their Week 2 win over the Cowboys.