DENVER — Friday night, Jason Elam shared a story. Coach Mike Shanahan, he explained, was so dialed in, he would call a play and yell to the kicker on the sideline to loosen up for the extra point.
"And he was right. A touchdown followed," Elam said, shaking his head.
At halftime Sunday, Shanahan entered the Broncos Ring of Fame, an eternal stamp on his 14-year run of excellence and two Super Bowl titles.
It raised the question: Does this franchise have a Ring of Shame? Sunday's game belongs, odious and repulsive in every way given the context and no credit given for the garbage time points.
This game represented a chance at legitimacy, and as laughable as it seems, an opportunity to secure a tie for first place in the AFC West.
Denver cannot be taken seriously until it beats a good team. The Raiders throttled Denver in every way, taking control in the second quarter and leaving tire tracks on the Broncos' chests in a 34-24 victory.
"We need to answer scores on both sides of the ball. We need to play complementary football," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "We didn't do that today. We've got to put the game to bed, emotionally, and do everything we can to win in Cleveland (on Thursday). I am sure (the confidence) is shaken a bit. But we have to rally back."
The Ravens, in hindsight, are way better than Denver. The Steelers fought with urgency to avoid their first 0-3 start at home since 1986. Sunday, Fangio and his staff were outcoached by a team without a coach, casting doubt on the boss' future this season and beyond.
This type of loss is indefensible.
"This was a tough game. Simply put, we got our butts whooped. There’s going to be questions about the secondary," said Pro Bowl safety Justi Simmons. "We’ve got to play better. I’ve got to play better. It's frustrating. I am going to find a way to get it right. And I am not just saying that. I have to get it right.”
Raiders boss Jon Gruden resigned Monday after racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails were revealed as part of the investigation into the toxic culture of the Washington football team. Apparently, Gruden was holding the Raiders back. They played liberated and motivated, opening a 31-10 cushion in the third quarter as some disgusted fans began leaving at Empower Field at Mile High on a postcard-perfect afternoon.
This was a game the Broncos had to have. This was a game to show the ability to adapt, improve and thrive. Instead, this game is like every email I have unsubscribed to the last few years. Boring. Predictable. Unnecessary.
"When you win, you point the fingers at your teammates. When you lose, you point the thumb at yourself. I point the thumb at me," said Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 35 of 49 passes for 334 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and one fumble. "This is on me. I will learn from today and put this one behind me."
It's hard to fathom that the Raiders played more inspired under special teams coach Rich Bisaccia than the Broncos did for Fangio. Bisaccia has never led a team. He seemed more nervous than excited during meetings with the press this week. General manager Mike Mayock called him one of the greatest leaders he's ever been around.
After Sunday, who was prepared to argue?
When Bridgewater threw his third pick, the game mercifully ended.
It started well. And then dissolved before our eyes.
No elasticity remains with two humbling streaks.
The Broncos began with a burst, so lacking for so long. Embattled offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur found the answers, mixing Melvin Gordon (four carries for 23 yards) with an elusive Bridgewater (3-for-3, 44 yards). Bridgewater avoided pressure twice on a third-and-12 conversion and a 23-yard touchdown to Tim Patrick.
It was a counter punch.
The Raiders began with a 75-yard trek, traversing the football like a Subaru. Showing balance with their dormant running attack, the Raiders set up the deep ball, Derek Carr launching a rainbow strike to Henry Ruggs III for a 48-yard score over Ronald Darby. That represents the third long scoring pass the Broncos have allowed on opening drives, joining tosses at Jacksonville (25 yards to Marvin Jones Jr.) and at Pittsburgh (50 yards to Diontae Johnson).
"I am not going to give myself no excuses. I have to finish on the ball," said Darby of the Broncos who allowed seven completions of at least 25 yards. "We have to step up."
Worse, the first time this year the Broncos allowed points on the first two possessions. Daniel Carlson, a product of The Classical Academy, booted a 50-yard to shove the Raiders ahead 10-7.
The Broncos reacted with desperation, going for it on fourth-and-2 on their own 37-yard line. Bridgewater fired his second interception of the season, sailing a pass over tight end Eric Saubert. It left the Broncos 8-for-10 on fourth down, but misfiring on two straight.
Late in the second quarter as the Ring of Fame Broncos made their way to the 50-yard line for the induction of Shanahan, the defense dropped its transmission, if not its reputation.
Remember when this group represented the strength of the team? The warm glow of August has been replaced by the Bunsen Burner heat on Fangio. The Broncos hired him because of his brilliance on defense, and as this team spirals, the mirror remains sobering. Fangio said he was not planning on making any changes to his coaching staff or his duties.
Trailing 10-7, the Raiders raced 82 yards in 31 seconds, including a chunk from tight end Darren Waller. The ending raised eyebrows. With one linebacker on the field — Alexander Johnson — Derek Carr found him, lofting a beautiful touchdown to Kenyon Drake on a wheel route.
Leading 17-7, the Raiders kept foot on pedal, cruising in the Toll Lane to the end zone. Drake trotted in from 18 yards untouched as Las Vegas widened to a 17-point advantage with 11:27 left in the third.
The Broncos allowed the Ravens and Steleers to convert 14 of 29 third downs. The Broncos have been gashed a battery of big plays in the passing game, and unable to stifle two of the worst rushing teams in the Raiders and Las Vegas. The Broncos allowed five passing plays of at least 30 yards.
"I don't need anyone to tell me I am playing bad or good. I need to play better," Simmons said. "If I play better, I like our chances of winning a lot of football games. Thursday gives an opportunity to not just say it, but to go do it."
They couldn't protect Bridgewater, whose overall stats were spoiled by turnovers. The Raiders sacked Bridgewater five times and posted 17 quarterback hits.
"It's disappointing," tight end Noah Fant said. "Von said in the locker room. We have to look in the mirror (individually) and fix our mistakes."
This set up as a get right game. Instead, the Broncos were left out, out of the discussion as a contender. They have delusions of adequacy until they don't.
"Choice is an illusion," Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller said. "I have got to find a way to be better. I am going to double down on that. It all starts with me and I’m completely comfortable with that. If I do my job better it will trickle down to everyone else. I have to play better. I have to be a better leader. In 11 years I have always found a way to figure it out."
Broncos linebacking crew is now absent its top two starters. Alexander Johnson (chest) exited in the third quarter. Josey Jewell was lost for the season with a torn pectoral during the Jacksonville game. ...
The Broncos featured only one mild surprise in the inactive list: receiver David Brown. He became a casualty when the Broncos promoted speedy veteran John Brown. The other inactives: Brett Rypien, Jamar Johnson, Cam Fleming, Jamar Johnson, Aaron Patrick and McTelvin Agim. ...
Sunday's attendance: 75,104 with 1,750 no-shows. ...
Garett Bolles exited in the fourth quarter with an apparent injury.