DENVER -- Once again, the Broncos overcame adversity -- some of it of their own creation.
Once again, Case Keenum shook off an interception to deliver when it mattered most, completing four passes for 65 yards on a 10-play sprint to Brandon McManus' game-winning 36-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Once again, the Broncos overcame an early deficit, although unlike last week, the comeback took a while longer, as the Broncos dug themselves holes of 12-0 at halftime and 19-7 in the third quarter before dominating the final stretch, scoring the last 13 points to secure the win.
Once again, the Broncos capitalized off opposing mistakes, none bigger than the dropped fourth-and-1 pass by Oakland fullback Keith Smith on a play from the Denver 33-yard line. Denver immediately responded with a 14-play, 67-yard march that included three third-down conversions and a fourth-and-goal scramble by Keenum for the touchdown that whittled Oakland's lead to two points.
The details were different, but the script was similar to the one that delivered a 27-24 win over Seattle last week. Fortunately for the Broncos, the result was, too.
"We overcame a lot today, and that shows the amount of talent that we have on this team," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
"Everybody just stuck together and didn't point the finger," he added a moment later. "Everybody just kept battling and we realized the plays were going to come our way."
Beyond resiliency, why did the Broncos defeat the Raiders on Sunday?
Because they controlled the game on the ground
Going into Sunday night, one team had more rushing yards through two weeks than Denver (Houston, 157.5). Three teams averaged more yards per attempt (Carolina, San Francisco and Houston).
But no team was more effective at moving the chains. Denver's runners got first downs once every 3.33 attempts in the Broncos' first two games -- including a rate of one every 2.8 attempts against the Raiders on Sunday.
Even when taking out Phillip Lindsay's 53-yard second-quarter gallop, the Broncos still averaged 4.3 yards per carry, enough to sustain and justify a commitment to the ground game that resulted in 28 total attempts for 168 yards. Overall, Denver finished with 168 yards on 28 attempts and 6.0 yards per carry, marking the first time in 34 games that the Broncos ran for at least 150 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per attempt in the same game.
Lindsay played the biggest role in this, exploding for 107 yards on 14 attempts. He became just the second rookie or first-year player in Broncos history to post a 100-yard game in a season's first two weeks, joining Mike Anderson (131 yards against Atlanta in Week 2 of 2000).
Oakland had some early success on the ground. Marshawn Lynch ran twice for 16 yards on the Raiders' opening series, including a 10-yard gallop off right tackle that moved them into range for a Mike Nugent field goal.
But after that, Oakland struggled to generate a consistent ground game. They averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on their final 25 runs after Lynch's opening bursts. Nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. was particularly stout against the run, finishing with five tackles, including one for a loss.
Because the Broncos took the first-half script and flipped it after halftime
In the hottest conditions ever for a regular-season NFL game in Denver, the Raiders drained the energy from the Broncos defense during the first half. Oakland had an 11-minute, four-second advantage in time of possession (20:32 to 9:28) and ran 14 more plays than the Broncos (35 to 21).
After halftime, the Broncos held the football for five minutes, 12 seconds longer than the Raiders (17:36 to 12:24) and ran 18 more plays (43-25). Denver was able to extend its drives because of its success on first down; the Broncos converted 70 percent of their 10 third-down tries in the second half. They followed one of their three second-half third-down failures with Keenum's fourth-and-1 fourth-quarter touchdown scramble.
All four of Denver's second-half drives consumed at least 10 plays and covered at least 50 yards. Only one of Oakland's second-half possessions reached double-digit snaps or 50 net yards. As a result, Oakland's defenders looked gassed, with hands on hips all over the field between plays on the Broncos' game-winning series.
"In the second half, we thought offensively, we had to be more aggressive, [to] take more shots down the field," Joseph said. "That made them a little softer in the second half."
Still, the Broncos know that at some point, they need to break out quicker and not dig themselves an early hole.
"We've got to start faster and stop making these games hard on ourselves," Harris said. "If we start fast and come out and put points on the board, it's going to be over for a lot of teams."
Because the Broncos won the third phase
McManus' game-winning 36-yard field goal was merely the final strike in a game that saw the Broncos have the upper hand on special teams. But a moment that proved equally crucial came when Shaquil Barrett blocked the extra-point attempt of Mike Nugent 35 seconds before halftime.
It marked the second consecutive game in which Barrett made a crucial play just before the midway point. His sack of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson last week for a 22-yard loss with 37 seconds left in the first half effectively destroyed any chance for the Seahawks to march to a field goal.
"I just came super free, so I put my hands up and I blocked it," Barrett said. "I was mad that it didn't go backwards, so I could get a scoop-and-score, but a block is a block."
Last year, special teams was a reason why the Broncos lost eight consecutive games. This year, it is a reason why they are 2-0.
"I just think that we've got a different mindset. We just practice a little bit different,” Barrett said. “If you want to be a good special-teams player, you've just got to have your mind set that you're going to be a good special-teams player. That's what's going on with our team."
Denver also had an advantage in punting, as Marquette King posted gross and net averages of 51.0 and 44.3 yards, respectively. Those figures were 3.7 and 2.3 yards better than those of Oakland's Johnny Townsend.
Most importantly, Townsend could not keep his final punt out of the end zone; the football sailed over the goal line for a touchback and a 29-yard net. This allowed the Broncos to begin their game-winning drive in comfortable field position at their 20-yard line, although that would be negated by a holding penalty on first down.
Because Keenum trusted every target
Tim Patrick couldn't quite come up with a 4-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, as instant replay wiped it out. But Keenum turned to the first-year receiver in the highest-leverage point of the game, locating him for a 26-yard catch-and-run that moved the Broncos from the Oakland 44-yard line into the red zone and well within McManus' field-goal range.
Patrick was one of the standouts of training camp, but with four receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, opportunities were limited in the last two games.
“I was really glad he got that catch because we had the one called back earlier in the game,” Keenum said. “But it is trust. He has made plays like that all preseason, made plays in practice and in camp.
"When it comes down to it, in the fourth quarter, we are tired and we need everybody. We have to roll with guys who have been all trust."
Patrick sprinted upfield, and then got to the sideline and safely out of bounds with 10 seconds remaining, perfectly setting up McManus to seal the win.
Photos from Broncos team photographers of game action during the Broncos' game against the Raiders.