The second half began with momentous news from the Denver Broncos’ locker room. One of their best defensive players, DeMarcus Ware, had sustained a back injury. Sunday afternoon’s development meant that the leading sack man in the NFL would not be available for duty for the rest of the game against the Raiders.
Things got a little worse for the Broncos in short order. They got the ball first to begin the final 30 minutes and proceeded to do nothing with it. A couple pops into the line didn’t get them much, and a deep ball thrown by quarterback Peyton Manning got them nothing except a three-and-out.
It was at that moment that the Broncos’ strong-side linebacker, Von Miller, came up with an idea that was even flashier than the purple suit and silver spats he wore after the game, an electrifying mixture that could have lit up 42nd and Broadway.
In his uniform whites, however, Miller bore in from Derek Carr’s right, and he found the going easy on his way into the Oakland quarterback’s personal space. Carr cocked the ball with intent to pass and had no sooner raised it to shoulder level before the fancy party crasher from Denver crashed into Carr and took the football from him.
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The Oakland turnover led to Broncos points and a momentum shift for Denver, one that carried the O.co Coliseum visitors to a 16-10 victory in an important early-season AFC West matchup.
Another Denver defensive play put the game away for the Broncos in the fourth quarter when defensive back Chris Harris Jr. intercepted a Carr pass and ran it back 74 yards for a touchdown. Thankful for the gift of those 10 points, the Broncos also benefited from two missed field goals by Sebastian Janikowski on a day the Oakland kicker set a Raiders franchise record for games played. One of Janikowski’s unfortunate efforts was blocked. The other, on the first play of the fourth quarter, was pushed left from 40 yards out. A make would have given the Raiders the lead.
Miller, though, was the man who turned the game around, at a time it began to look and feel as if Denver might suffer its first loss of the season, with the news of sack leader Ware’s injury.
But Denver entered the game with the best defense in the league, yardage wise, and there was more to the Broncos’ pass rush than Ware. Miller, a starter, and substitute linebackers Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, give the team a four-man rush rotation. And when he took the field after the three-and-out, Miller said the Denver coaching staff told him he was likely to enjoy a clear path to Carr.
“They told me, ‘On this play, you’re going to get a sack,’ and I just did it,” Miller said.
As for the strip that went along with it: “We knew we needed a turnover. We tried to get to the ball. I knew that play was going to happen. I was just doing what I do. I wish I could have scored on that play. I just went in there early. I knew he didn’t see me coming, so instead of just tackling him, I tried to get the ball out of there.”
They told me, ‘On this play, you’re going to get a sack,’ and I just did it.
Denver linebacker Von Miller on Broncos coaches
Denver did not score an offensive touchdown all day, but the defensive one produced by Harris was enough to do in the Raiders. The Broncos had gone up 9-7 in the fourth quarter when the Raiders drove from their 11-yard line to the Broncos’ 31. That’s when Carr threw one over the middle and behind wide receiver Seth Roberts. It’s also when Harris Jr. caught it and took it all the way the other way.
“Stay inside,” Harris said later. “The coach said, ‘Stay inside,’ and I was able to make a play.”
Harris’ interception snatched the defensive-back-of-the-game award from the Raiders’ Charles Woodson. The Heisman Trophy winner out of Michigan, now in his 18th season, intercepted a Manning pass at the end of the first half to kill a Denver drive. He had another one in the third quarter when he flew in and over Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and stayed inbound. Woodson also stepped in for a stop on Denver running back C.J. Anderson on a first-and-goal from the Raiders’ 4 after the Miller sack to help hold the Broncos to a field goal. He hurt his shoulder again on the play and had to come out for a while. He returned later in the game.
“Unbelievable what he’s doing,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “Just to be playing at 39 years old is incredible.”
While Denver moved to 5-0, the Raiders fell to 2-3. The loss was excruciating, and Del Rio appeared ashen afterward. Why wouldn’t he? His team gave up 10 points and kicked away six, a swing that would have swung the game the Raiders’ way against one of the best teams in the league and the standard-bearer in Oakland’s division.
Del Rio said he feels great about his team. But not that great.
I feel disappointed for the men in that locker room, that we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of a victory.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio
“I feel disappointed for the men in that locker room, that we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of a victory,” Del Rio said. “There’s no consolation in this league for playing hard and playing well enough to keep it close and have opportunities. I’m disappointed for all the men in that room and how hard they worked, but we will continue to attack these games and look for better results.”