By Abraham Gutierrez
Fueled by a superhuman defensive effort – particularly from defensive end Khalil Mack, who tied Howie Long's franchise record for most sacks in a game (5) – the Oakland Raiders improved to 6-7 on the season, stunning the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos at home by a final score of 15-12. The win not only snapped the Silver and Black's eight-game skid against their hated longtime rivals, but also helped keep Oaktown's slim playoff hopes alive.
"What a fantastic effort," said head coach Jack Del Rio in his post-game victory speech. "60 minutes, boys, heck of a job right there. I'm so proud of each and every man in here, because the question was real simple: Do we believe, do we believe? We do believe. That's a hell of an effort right there, a gritty effort. Grit everywhere, tough, hard-fought, well-deserved."
Offensively, it was the tale of two halves for the Raiders, as Oakland went into the locker room trailing 12-0, and appeared dead in the water heading into the break. However, whatever Del Rio told his squad at halftime certainly worked, as they responded with a valiant effort, despite going up against one of the premier defenses in the National Football League.
Nevertheless, this was a game to forget statistically for everyone on the offensive side of the rock. Facing a must-win situation, the Raiders finished with eight first downs and only 126 yards of total offense, out of which 27 yards were tallied on the ground and an anemic 99 yards through the air.
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr (12-for-29 for 135 yards, 2 touchdowns and no picks for a quarterback rating of 79.0) struggled to find consistency, and so did the Raiders' receivers. From Oaktown's receiving corps, the standout players were tight ends Mychal Rivera (3 catches, 49 yards, TD) and rookie Clive Walford (3 catches, 47 yards), alongside wide-outs, Seth Roberts (2 catches, 20 yards, TD) and $35-million man, Michael Crabtree (4 catches, 19 yards).
Playing for their playoff lives, the Raiders' "D" chose the perfect time to put on its greatest defensive effort of the 2015 NFL season. With a bend-but-don't-break approach, Ken Norton's group allowed 20 first downs and 310 yards of offense (34 rushing yards, 276 passing yards), but held the Broncos to just 4-for-18 on third down situations.
More importantly, they won the turnover battle 2-0, and kept Denver out of the end zone for the duration of the ballgame. As mentioned above, this win wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the Mack Attack, as the Raiders' second-year star out of Buffalo fueled this group to give up four field goals in the first half, before pitching a shutout in the third and fourth stanzas.
With his historic performance, Mack catapulted himself to the top of the NFL's sacks list, as he's now dumped opposing quarterbacks on 14 different occasions.
Other defensive standouts for the Silver and Black on the afternoon included Malcolm Smith (10 tackles), Curtis Lofton and Ben Heeney with eight tackles apiece, and of course, Charles Woodson, who got on the board with a timely fumble recovery to go along with a pass defended and a pair of tackles.
Special Teams: C-
It has been a rough season for the franchise's all-time scoring leader, as kicker Sebastian Janikowski's struggles continued in the Mile High City. With a golden opportunity to extend the Raiders' lead in the late going, the FSU product missed his lone field goal attempt. Successfully converting only on an extra point on the afternoon, Janikowski is now 16-for-21 on the season (76 percent), including a long of 56 yards, which is subpar by his standards.
With the Raiders' offense failing to get much going, the outstanding play of punter Marquette King played a huge factor in keeping the Broncos from scoring a single touchdown. Stating his case as a potential Pro Bowler, the undrafted Fort Valley State product averaged 46 yards on 10 punts, including a long of 55 yards, and five carefully placed boots that settled nicely inside the Broncos' 20-yard line.
Once again, Jack Del Rio was able to get his team to play at a high level against a legitimate playoff contender, despite being road underdogs. After an atrocious first-half, the Raiders' offense picked up its intensity and did just enough to pull off the upset against one of the top seeds in the AFC.
Going up against one of the NFL's top defenses, the Raiders' resistance put on an inspired performance that was certainly the difference in the outcome of the game. Other than the decision to go for a two-point (conversion) attempt following an injury to long snapper Jonathan Condo, Del Rio and his staff did a tremendous job of leading this team to a much-needed victory.
Up next, the (6-7) Oakland Raiders will have a very tall task, as they battle the (9-4) Green Bay Packers in Week 15 of the 2015 NFL season. This interconference affair will take place at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California, Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. PT live on FOX.
Abe Gutierrez's (Twitter: @GutierrezAbe) passion led him to ditch law school journey in order to launch his own publishing company. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com, AXS.com and the CBS-Sports family. Some of his work can be found on CBS-Miami (Dolphins), CBS-LosAngeles (Chargers), CBS-BayArea (Raiders), CBS-NewYork (NY Jets), CBS-TampaBay (Buccaneers), AXS.com, aExaminer.com and other online publications.
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