Thanks to some help around the league, the Broncos needed two wins in their final three games to clinch a playoff spot. Denver lost a huge opportunity to get one of those wins with a 20-19 upset loss to the Raiders.
The only way Denver is guaranteed a playoff game is by winning at Philadelphia this week, then beating Kansas City in the season finale. A loss in either of those two games, and the Broncos could find themselves tied with multiple teams at 9-7.
"You go from being able to win three and get in automatically to now you've made it hard on yourself, there's no question," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "Winning two is the best we can do now."
Going into a tough game against the Eagles this week, the Broncos have plenty of issues they need to work through before the playoff picture becomes their top priority.
Against the Raiders, many old problems popped up. Denver was poor in the red zone, scoring only one touchdown in four trips. The running game struggled, getting only 2.9 yards per carry against a porous Raiders defense. And the defense gave up big plays at inopportune times, including many big runs. Oakland gained 241 yards on the ground.
"I'll give them credit but it's not about them," running back LaMont Jordan said. "It's about our lack of execution. And we have to get it fixed."
The Broncos should have beaten Oakland, but the failures to finish the game were troubling. Denver had a first-and-goal at Oakland's 2-yard line in the fourth quarter but had to settle for a field goal. The Broncos got the ball back with less than four minutes to go and a six-point lead and couldn't get a first down. Then the Broncos couldn't stop JaMarcus Russell when it had a chance to seal the game with a big play.
"That's what's so frustrating: missed opportunities," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.
LINEUP WATCH: Rookie David Bruton started at safety for Renaldo Hill, who was out with an ankle injury. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Bruton played fine, but Denver will welcome Hill back when he is ready. Hill makes many of the calls in the Broncos' secondary. The Broncos went with Bruton, who has played well on special teams, because fellow rookie Darcel McBath is also hurt. McBath is on injured reserve with a broken forearm. Bruton had five tackles against the Raiders.
UNDER THE RADAR: The Broncos brought cornerback Tony Carter up from the practice squad to make his NFL debut against the Raiders, and unexpectedly promoted the undrafted rookie ahead of second-round pick Alphonso Smith. Carter played well as Denver's nickel cornerback -- Ty Law was inactive with a hamstring injury -- and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said he got the chance because of his effort in practice. The promotion for Carter was a bad sign for Smith, who has not stood out as a rookie. Smith came in late because Carter cramped up, and was unable to stop receiver Chaz Schilens on Oakland's game-winning touchdown.
--WR Brandon Marshall saw a few different coverages and the Raiders used cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to shadow him on many occasions, but Marshall still had a solid day. He had 73 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
--WR Brandon Stokley hasn't played much this season but had two big catches against the Raiders. His diving 4-yard catch on third down moved the chains for the Broncos, and he had a 63-yard catch on a third down that set up a field goal. The Broncos could use the reliable veteran more on third downs.
--LB Elvis Dumervil had a quiet day against a Raiders team that allows a lot of sacks. Dumervil didn't have a sack and only one assisted tackle. He has 15 sacks and now needs a great finish to reach 20 for the season.
--K Matt Prater continued his good season. He hit all four field-goal attempts and was very good on kickoffs. He has kicked less often in practice this season, and his leg is fresher as a result.
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