The Denver Broncos‘ defense put on another stellar performance in a 16-10 win over division-rival Oakland. Here’s what we learned…
1. The Derek Carr injury will obviously set the tone for this week in Oakland. The Raiders made a slight upgrade at backup quarterback this offseason, swapping Matt McGloin with former Bills first-round pick E.J. Manuel, but will be crossing their fingers for good news from any follow-up testing Carr will undergo this week. Jack Del Rio did quell some concerns, telling reporters Carr suffered back spasms and doesn’t believe it will a long-term issue. After watching Carr go down with a broken leg on Christmas Eve last year, the sight of him getting up gingerly and walking to the sidelines had to be nerve-wracking. Back injuries are fickle, but the Raiders were obviously interested in playing this one safe with 75 percent of the season ahead of them.
2. Del Rio went wild on Sunday, and he’ll certainly get beat up for it. But … not here. Was faking a punt with 2:32 to go in the third quarter at your own 33-yard line crazy? Was allowing your offensive coordinator to run a play against the Denver Broncos defense in an empty set on your own 1-yard line ill-advised? Was burning your last timeout with more than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter probably not what you’d want? Yes would be the answer to all of these questions, but Del Rio somehow has the presence to pull it off. When the referee came to him on the sidelines to let him know he was out of timeouts, Del Rio made a “zero” gesture with his hands, smirked and nodded. Oakland was in a funk heading into this game after last week’s blowout loss to the Redskins. Del Rio lost his quarterback, watched his offensive line get shoved around and tried to do something about it.
3. It’s a shame we’re still about a month from DEN-KC, Part One. One could argue that the Raiders would be a first-place team in a few other divisions, but are instead buried beneath one of the league’s best defenses and one of the league’s best all-around teams. The Broncos held Marshawn Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries (1.3) in the type of tight, low-scoring game that is supposed to be Lynch’s battlefield of choice. They logged three sacks and five total quarterback hits and, in moments like Oakland’s fourth-and-1 attempt in the second quarter, showed why their defensive scheme can be so unforgiving. What will they be able to do against Andy Reid and his offense?
4. Broncos running back C.J. Anderson ripped off his longest run of the season (40 yards) and finished close to 100 total yards on Sunday (95), but the focus for at least a few moments in the game turned to Jamaal Charles. Charles averaged 6.6 yards on five carries Sunday, displaying the kind of burst and ruggedness that could wind up being significant down the stretch. Teams have tried and failed to preserve veterans for big-time roles late in the season, but Charles could be the exception if his change-of-pace role continues to provide the occasional dagger in big spots.
5. For a moment, pretend you’re neither a Broncos or Raiders fan. Just re-watch Johnny Holton‘s 64-yard touchdown catch. It was beautiful on all fronts — from the recognition and play-calling to the throw to Holton’s Willie Mays-style catch. The play sent temporary shockwaves through an Oakland team that’d logged just seven first downs the week before and took their time logging their initial first down on Sunday. That was Holton’s third career catch, and undoubtedly his most memorable.