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Raiders of Lost Art. Las Vegas extends winning streak to six games vs. Broncos

Klint Kubiak calls plays as offense shows improvement, but struggles on third down
Raiders Broncos Football
Raiders Broncos Football
Posted at 5:24 PM, Nov 20, 2022

DENVER — The losses all leave scars, threatening to expire hope. The decision to kick rather than cook at Seattle. The collapse against the Colts. The grounding versus the Jets. The red zone-free game in Tennessee.

Just when you think it can get worse, it does. The Broncos lost to the Raiders for the sixth straight time, falling 22-16 on Davante Adams' walk-off touchdown in overtime. It has left coach Nathaniel Hackett's increasingly tenuous, making a one-on-done season possible.

"Everything is about me and this staff. We have been so close, so many opportunities. My sole purpose is to find a way to win," Hackett said about his future.

The loss came with the typical hallmarks. They squandered a 10-point lead for the third time this season. They failed repeatedly on third down. And they couldn't finish.

Sunday was supposed to be different.

Nine games into a forgettable season, his own job status becoming increasingly tenuous, Hackett made a major decision, relinquishing play-calling duties to quarterbacks boss Klint Kubiak.

"I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team," Hackett explained by putting Kubiak in the booth and offensive coordinator Justin Outten, who has never called plays, on the sideline.

The Broncos showed progress, but remained swirling in the drain after a forgettable ending.

"I think we're on the learning end of the experience of how to get back to winning. Sometimes it's a journey, sometimes it's an ugly one. Sometimes it's a tough one," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "What hurts probably more than anything else is these games are close. ... We owe it to you (Broncos Country) to be better."

This loss came with the accompanying drama as all Broncos' games do. With 50 seconds left and trailing by three, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed a 43-yard pass to Josh Jacobs, who continued his Canton performances against Denver. He beat linebacker Josey Jewell in coverage, pushed out at the 7-yard line. Denver's defense stiffened, forcing three straight incompletions that led to a game-tying field goal.

On the first possession of overtime, Derek Carr connected to a wide-open Adams for a 35-yard score as he put his finger to his lips to quiet the crowd.

"It was a double-move," said cornerback Pat Surtain II, who was beaten on the play. "I will learn from this."

Though it was only one game, the Broncos revealed enough to continue to experiment that should have been started weeks ago.

With the game tied at 13 with 7:06 remaining in regulation, the Broncos took over at their 18-yard line. Latavius Murray, who should be the starting running back, achieved a first down on a brutish 9-yard catch and run. Courtland Sutton followed with a 14-yard reception. Wilson, playing efficiently and wisely, scrambled and fired an escape hatch dart to Melvin Gordon for 21 yards. Wilson completed four of five passes on the drive for 46 yards, setting up Brandon McManus' 48-yard field goal with 3:30 remaining.

The Broncos had a chance to run out the clock with two minutes, but failed on a third down. They converted three-of-12 in regulation, extending a season-long slump. The decision to throw on third-and-10 inside 2 minutes with the Raiders out of timeouts brought scrutiny. Had Wilson self-sacked or the Broncos run the ball, the Raiders would have started the possession without around a minute remaining.

“We wanted to give ourselves a chance to close the game out and win it, so we called a pass," Hackett said. "You’ve got to keep the clock running, one way or another.”

For Kubiak, life came a bit full circle on Sunday.

Kubiak played high school ball at Regis, competed collegiately at Colorado State, yet Sunday he did something novel. He called plays for the first time for the Broncos, empowered with the job after Hackett oversaw the league's worst offense through the first nine games.

What transpired was encouraging, if not frustrating because it should have happened during the bye week at the latest. The Broncos scored a touchdown on their opening drive, something they had not accomplished until Sunday. It featured the type of balance and passing routes conducive to success. Let's be fair, the Raiders defense remains odiferous, ranking near the bottom of every meaningful category.

However, a new play caller with the same playbook made it click a little bit. It opened with three tight ends in the shotgun and Wilson scrambling to his right to complete a 15-yard dart to Greg Dulcich. Sutton drew a 17-yard interference and Kendall Hinton delivered a 33-yard gain (Wilson was 3-for-3 for 63 yards). Murray jogged in for a 1-yard score, creating optimism not felt at home since the final drive against the 49ers on Sept. 25.

After a Raiders missed field goal, the Broncos ran six more plays before facing its first third down. They failed as Sutton dropped a pass for a fifth straight game, but McManus booted a 48-yarder to open a 10-0 lead. Two drives, 10 points. That represents a nitromethane boost for an offense that entered game averaging 14.6 points per game, representing's Denver worst offense start since 1966.

The concern? The Broncos have squandered a pair of 10-point leads this season against the Titans and Chargers.

The Raiders responded with their best player. On a long crossing route, Davante Adams started with Pat Surtain II on him, but was passed off to safety Kareem Jackson. Jackson couldn't break up the pass as Adams scored on a 31-yard touchdown. He finished with five catches for 94 yards in the first half.

Denver's offensive resurgence felt hollow because of the finish, kind of like a dinner ruined waiting too long for the check. For reasons that defy logic, the Broncos trusted Melvin Gordon at the goal line. He fumbled for the fifth time this season, Maxx Crosby jarring the ball loose at the 2-yard line and it was recovered at the 7. McManus followed with a low kick blocked by Crosby, leaving him 17-for-21 this season and his first kick missed from 29 yards or less since last season. Murray has fumbled once in his last 956 touches. Gordon has a nose for the goal line, but it pushing for extra yardage he left himself vulnerable yet again.

"I don't think that's the reason we lost the game because we recovered it but it definitely didn't help," said Gordon, who received a larger role after Chase Edmonds sprained his ankle and left the locker room in a boot Sunday night. "When I do stuff like that I put myself on a short leash. I get taken out of the game. But I can't be mad at anybody but myself.''

The momentum shift proved real. Montrell Washington fumbled the opening kickoff, Denver went three-and-out and Corliss Waitman uncorked his latest bad punt, a 41-yarder that set up Daniel Carlon's tying 52-yard field goal with 10:37 remaining in the third. On a team with consequences, Washington and Waitman would be demoted or cut. A Raiders defender ran into Waitman, but Denver did not even bother to re-punt it.

Even Kubiak couldn't lift the cloud over the third quarter in three drives. The Broncos remain the NFL's worst team after halftime, sitting with one touchdown. McManus, however, converted a 52-yard field goal to open the fourth, giving Denver a 13-10 advantage.

The win snapped the Raiders' five-game losing streak on the road this season. For Denver it brought a reminder of how a fumble, a special teams gaffe and third down issues can extend misery.

"“Anytime there’s tough days, there’s always talk. There’s always chatter," Wilson said of speculation about Hackett's job security, before discussing the final two months. "We can’t lose any more games. This is the truth … how do you win every game? You win one game at a time.

Back on the field
The Broncos received a boost from good health. Right tackle Cam Fleming (quad) returned after missing the previous two games, same with outside linebacker Baron Browning (hip flexor). Offensive lineman Tom Compton (herniated disk surgery) was active for the first time this season, adding depth. And center Graham Glasgow (left shoulder) returned to the starting lineup after suffering a second-half injury against the Titans.

Footnotes
Running back Chase Edmonds (ankle) and Jonathan Harris (knee) left the game in the first half and did not return. ...

The Broncos receiving corps remains compromised. Jerry Jeudy (low ankle sprain) and K.J, Hamler (hamstring) sat out, leaving Courtland Sutton, Kendall Hinton, Jalen Virgil and Brandon Johnson in the mix. Hamler jogged in pregame along with tight end Andrew Beck (hamstring), suggesting they have a chance to play at Carolina. ...