LAS VEGAS — Sin City in daylight leaves sobering truths in its wake. Like marriages. Hangovers. Failed bets. And lost fumbles.
This where hope and ATM cards go to die.
Everything was set up for the Broncos to snap their ugly six-game road losing streak to the Raiders. Creeping into field goal range in the second quarter, Russell Wilson handed off to Melvin Gordon and everything changed. Gordon, in his first play of the afternoon, fumbled for the fourth consecutive game, setting off a dizzying chain of events from which the Broncos never recovered. It turned into a scoop and score for Amik Robertson, a nine-point swing that resulted in Denver's 14th loss in it last 19 AFC West games.
The final was 32-23 before a rowdy, orange bleached crowd at Allegiant Stadium.
"I’ve just got to be better, man. There ain’t no excuse for it. I just have to be better. That’s it," said emotional Gordon. "My job is to put the team in the best position to win. I didn’t do that.”
It wasn't supposed to be this way. This was the game Denver would figure it out and play complementary football. Instead, the Broncos turned into a cliche on the road: no takeaways, a mind-numbing turnover, penalties and injuries (starting running back Javonte Williams is feared to have suffered a significant knee issue that could jeopardize his season).
When the Raiders moved ahead 25-16 with 9:50 remaining, it felt over. It would have been at anytime over the previous six seasons. But not with Russell Wilson. This is why the Broncos acquired him. With everything going wrong, he made it right. Wilson connected with K.J. Hamler on a 55-yard bomb — it was Hamler's first catch of the season — setting up a quarterback run for a score. Suddenly, the Broncos were thinking of a win, not sinking in despair, trailing 25-23 with 7:16 left.
"We don't lack confidence," said Wilson, who is now 33-4 when throwing two touchdowns in the first half, per ESPN. "At the end of the day we wake up to win. We have to stay away from penalties and stay on schedule."
And regroup defensively.
The Broncos got run over, literally and figuratively. Josh Jacobs scored his ninth touchdown in six career games against the Broncos, finishing with 144 yards on 28 carries as Las Vegas eclipsed 200 yards on the ground. The Broncos entered the game allowing 81.3 yards rushing, but had no answers on Sunday.
"It's unacceptable," nose tackle Mike Purcell said.
The nine point deficit in the second half felt much bigger because the Broncos offense was held scoreless in the third quarter, rendered predictable without balance, while punting on four straight possessions. Wilson put on a clinic in the first half with a 158.0 quarterback rating, but was left scrambling and dodging rushers, unable to pull off the comeback.
It traced back to a forgettable moment for Gordon.
On the lonely bench, Gordon sat briefly after his mistake, teammates consoling him. The veteran has admitted to pressing in a backup role, and while trying to twist for extra yardage left him the target of Broncos Country's venom after Denver fell to 2-2 entering Thursday night's home game against the Colts. Wilson was so distraught he didn't want to face family after the game, feeling like he let everyone down.
"Nobody is pointing fingers in here. I know they are on the outside, but we are not in here. Football is a game where we all make mistakes," left guard Dalton Risner said. "I know I have to improve."
Added Wilson, "I believe in him. We believe in him."
The Broncos knew better than to take the Raiders for granted. The Raiders have left tread marks on their chest the past three years. And Las Vegas was desperate. Four of the last 157 teams to start 0-3 have reached the postseason. Only one team has reached postseason after losing their first four games.
The Raiders made the surprising choice to receive the kickoff. It proved correct. Las Vegas blended four runs with six passes to take a 3-0 lead on Daniel Carlson's 26-yard field goal. The highlight became the grudge match between All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and Broncos rising star Patrick Surtain II. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr found Adams for a beautiful back-shoulder completion with Surtain blanketing him. Surtain answered with a pass deflection at the end zone to snuff out the drive in the red zone.
Competing on the road requires complementary football. It unfurled in the first quarter as the Broncos opened a 7-3 lead. D.J. Jones, writing a diary of havoc, sacked Carr at the 2-yard line. Rookie Montrell Washington delivered a career-best 30-yard return, setting up Wilson. He dropped a dime to Eric Saubert — he has supplanted Albert Okwuegbunam as the pass-catching tight end — for 25 yards. The red zone is no longer the red-faced zone as the Broncos pumped in their second straight score, Wilson connecting with his favorite target Courtland Sutton for a 5-yard touchdown.
It was worth noting that the Broncos exited the first quarter with a four-point cushion. Per Andrew Mason of 104.3 The Fan, Josh McDaniels-coached teams had lost 11 consecutive games when trailing after the first quarter. He coached with urgency, even if it was difficult to rationalize.
After the Raiders secured a 10-7 advantage on Jacobs' 10-yard touchdown, Daniel Carlson attempted an onside kick. He delivered a high-hopper that bounced off Justin Strnad with linebacker Alex Singleton pouncing on it before the Raiders engulfed him. A 32-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy set up a Brandon McManus' 27-yard field goal, knotting the score at 10 with 8:04 remaining in the half.
What happened next was crippling. After Williams converted a fourth-and1, leaving the ball at the 41-yard line, Gordon fumbled, knocked in the arm and back by Duron Harmon as Robertson grabbed the ball and raced 68 yards for a touchdown, shoving the Raiders ahead 16-10 with 3:31 remaining in the half.
"In the end, you can't put the ball on the ground. It's that simple," coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
Gordon has fumbled in every game this season, losing two of four, and five straight games dating to the 2021 season finale vs. the Chiefs.
"There's no excuse for it," said Gordon, who finished with three carries for eight yards. "It doesn't matter if I was trying to do too much. My job is to go out there and make plays and hold onto the ball, and I didn't do that,
Remarkably, the Broncos took the punch to the throat and made it interesting. Wilson, in his best half in Denver, found Kendall Hinton streaking down sideline for 35 yards as the corner jumped Sutton's route. Seconds later, Wilson zipped a 20-yard dart to Jerry Jeudy who rolled into the end zone, tying the score 16-all after a missed extra point because of high snap.
Denver's defense buckled after the Raiders took over at their 24-yard line with 1:24 left. Carr engineered a 54-yard drive, scrambling for 20 as it appeared Randy Gregory was held. Carlson, a former Colorado Springs prep star, pushed the Raiders ahead 19-16 at the half.
A bareknuckle brawl broke out in the second half. The Broncos offense lost Williams and couldn't temper Jacobs. The former Alabama star continued riddling the Broncos. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing with a 42-yard gain that set up a field goal. The Broncos' streak of not allowing a second half touchdown ended with Jacobs' score.
"It was tough to see him do that against us," Jeudy said of his former college teammate at Alabama. "He's a really good back."
The Broncos continue to talk about how this year will be different. But it can't be better without improvement against the Raiders.
"It's going to sting a little bit," said Surtain. "But we have to move on from it."
Running back Javonte Williams hurt his right knee on his first second-half carry. He couldn't put weight on his leg as he was helped off the field by trainers. He draped a towel over his head and was taken to the locker room on a cart. There's concern is season is in jeopardy. ...
Melvin Gordon, played one snap in the first half. He fumbled and it was returned for a score. When Javonte Williams was hurt on the first play in the second half, Mike Boone replaced him. It will be interesting to see how coach Nathaniel Hackett moves forward with Gordon. "Them boys believe in me. I've just got to do better," Gordon said. ...
Reserve safety P.J. Locke was diagnosed with a concussion after a tackle on the opening kickoff. He will not return for Thursday's game because there is not enough time to clear the protocol. ...
There were no surprises in the inactive list as nose tackle D.J. Jones cleared the concussion protocol and played his best game as a Bronco. ...
Russell Wilson, Bradley Chubb and P.J. Locke served as gameday captains.