The Oakland Raiders came prepared for their biggest game of the season as they hosted the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football for sole-lead of the AFC West.
The Raiders coaching staff had all three parts of the game arguably playing the best they've played all year to start the game.
Raiders special teams continuously pinned the Broncos offense deep in their own field while the defense kept the Broncos offense without a first down until the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. The strong defense led to good field position for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense, who took advantage.
After starting near midfield, Carr drove his squad to the six-yard line before the Broncos defense clamped and forced the Raiders to settle for a 24-yard field goal to put them up 3-0 early.
Following another Broncos three-and-out, Carr and the Raiders would start from the 42-yard line. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave continued his well-called game to get them in the red zone again. But just like their first drive, the Raiders would settle for another Janikowski field goal, his 400th-career make, putting them up 6-0.
The Raiders wouldn't get into the end zone until the second quarter when running back Latavius Murray punched it in from one-yard out to give his team the 13-to-0 lead. At the time, the Raiders had out-gained the Broncos 146 yards to just nine for the Broncos.
But that wouldn't hold all night.
Second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian found their rhythm a couple of drives later when he eluded Khalil Mack and made a nice throw to wide receiver Jordan Norwood for a 36-yard touchdown connection to make it just a one-score game.
The Raiders would continue to use a strong rushing attack to get back into scoring position, but the drive would stall after a familiar scene. Inexcusably, Carr would take a delay of game penalty that would push the team back and they would be unable to recover and have to settle for a 48-yard field goal try. This time though, Janikowski would miss the kick wide right and the Raiders would maintain a 13-to-7 lead.
Murray would continue to feast against a Broncos defense that was ranked 23rd in the NFL coming into the game, bursting through a hole to scamper 42 yards, his longest of the season. Musgrave would continue to ride the hot hand, giving Murray the ball again from the one-yard line to get into the end zone and give them the 20-to-7 lead with just over a minute left.
Unfortunately that would be enough time for Siemian and the Broncos offense to get back on the board, using seven plays to go 45 yards to kick a 55-yard field goal to make it 20-to-10 heading into the half.
Punter Marquette King has gotten off to a stellar season for the Raiders and that continued into the second half of Sunday night's game. On two consecutive drives, he teamed up with gunner Andre Holmes to pin the Broncos offense on their own two-yard line.
It looked as if the Raiders would get the ball back on the second one, but Siemian targeted cornerback DJ Hayden who committed a crucial pass interference penalty on Demaryius Thomas, who sold the flag well to the official.
The Broncos' young cornerback would capitalize on the added possession with an 11-play drive that went 73 yards but culminated in a 44-yard field goal that brought the Raiders lead to just 20-to-13 in the fourth quarter despite seemingly dominating the game.
Carr, who has played well in the fourth quarter all season, would answer with a drive of his own much due to a pretty ball over the middle to his tight end Clive Walford for 15 yards. Unfortunately the Raiders couldn't find the end zone again, instead settling for a 35-yard field goal that gave them the 23-to-13 lead.
Needing a big defensive stop, it's no surprise that Raiders Pro Bowler defensive end Khalil Mack would be the one to provide the big play. Mack would get around the right tackle to strip Siemian, and also recover the ball to give it back to the Raiders offense on the Broncos 39-yard line.
The Raiders dodged a major bullet on the next play of the game when it looked like Broncos safety T.J. Ward would pick off Carr on a horrible decision, but the referees determined that he trapped the ball, extending the Raiders drive. Facing a 3rd and 7, Carr would look for undrafted free agent receiver Johnny Holton who drew the pass interference call for the first down. Carr would hand the ball off to Murray one more time, giving him his third touchdown of the game to put them up 30-to-13.
But they wouldn't get out of there that easily. Just 51 seconds later, the Broncos would score on a 69-yard screen pass that would draw them to within 10 points.
Carr and the Raiders offense would run some clock out, but punt the ball back to the Broncos offense with 2:20 left on the clock but no timeouts. Just as they had done for much of the game, the defense would hunker down one last time and force a big 4th and 10. That's when safety Reggie Nelson would come up big, hauling in the interception that would allow Carr to take a couple of knees and ice the game.
With the win, the Raiders hold sole-lead of the AFC West heading into their bye week. They'll take the field again on Nov. 21 in Mexico City as they host the Houston Texans.