Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders

from DenverBroncos.com

Before the start of Denver's Sunday night game against Oakland Head Coach Mike Shanahan declared the following players inactive: Chris Young, Cecil Sapp, Jeff Shoate, Jashon Sykes, Cornell Green, Darius Holland, Trevor Pryce and Luther Elliss. The game began with snow on the field and it fell throughout the game. The temperature at kickoff was 17 degrees and the wind chill made it feel like it was 7 degrees. The Raiders won the coin toss and received the opening kickoff.

Micah Knorr's kickoff was caught by Doug Gabriel at the goal line and returned to the 20 for Oakland's offense to begin from. The Raiders advanced to Denver's 40-yard line but Al Wilson made a statement for the Broncos when he slammed the door on an airborne Tyrone Wheatley on 4th-and-inches to give the ball to Denver's offense on downs.

The Broncos had marched inside Oakland's 30 on their first drive, but Reuben Droughns fumbled Jake Plummer's handoff and Raiders safety Marques Anderson recovered the ball at his own 30 giving the visitors the first takeaway of the game.

Knorr's first punt of the game almost resulted in Denver getting the ball back when it fell to the ground and then bounced of return man Phillip Buchanon. Both Mike Leach and Kenoy Kennedy had opportunities to recover the loose ball but it was Jarrod Cooper who came up with it to escape danger at his own 14-yard line.

After three straight three-and-outs, (two by Denver, one by Oakland), the Raiders threatened with 6:55 remaining as Sebastian Janikowski tried a 48-yard field goal. But, the kick missed to the right giving the Broncos the ball at their 38-yard line.

On their next possession, Denver would not be denied as Jason Elam booted a 32-yard field goal with a major assist from Knorr on the hold as the snap was high. The kick capped a nine-play, 48-yard drive that spanned 5:01 and gave Denver a 3-0 lead. Denver ran the ball six plays and threw twice on their way to the score. Droughns carried the ball five times for 24 yards and Garrison Hearst added a two-yard rush. Plummer also threw to Darius Watts for 19 yards on 3rd-and-7 and Kyle Johnson made a three-yard reception.

The first touchdown of the game came shortly thereafter when Plummer connected with Rod Smith for an 85-yard scoring pass to open a 10-0 lead with 45 seconds left in the half. The Broncos got the ball back after a three-and-out by Oakland and didn't waste any time as the two-play drive took 18 seconds. The pass was the longest of Plummer's career as well as the longest reception of Smith's career. It also was the eighth-longest scoring pass in franchise history.

Oakland would not go quietly as it responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Jerry Porter to cut the lead to 10-7 just 28 second later. The Raiders had taken a few shots downfield earlier in the game and this time they connected as the pass eluded John Lynch and Champ Bailey to complete a quick, three-play drive that covered 51 yards.

The teams had played a scoreless half for the first 28 minutes before combining to put up 17 points in the final two minutes in the wintery conditions.

Denver opened the second half with the ball, but it was a short possession as Droughns put the ball on the ground again and for the second time it was recovered by Oakland when Charles Woodson scooped it up at the Broncos 36-yard line. Two plays later, Collins hit Porter on a 14-yard pass for the receiver's second touchdown of the game and a 13-10 lead for the visitors. Janikowski's extra point was blocked by Monsanto Pope keeping the deficit within field goal range at three points.

Denver got its first takeaway of the game when Oakland running back Justin Fargas caught a screen pass from Collins but lost the ball when Kelly Herndon hit him and Donnie Spragan recovered the ball at the Raiders 26-yard line. Denver then immediately squandered the opportunity it had been given on the next play when Plummer made a terrific play to elude two Oakland would-be tacklers, but threw an interception as he was trying to find Smith in the end zone. The pass was picked by Ray Buchanan and returned to the Raiders 37-yard line. Denver's third turnover of the game would not lead to Oakland points as the defense forced a Shane Lechler punt.

Ashley Lelie continued his penchant for making long receptions as he caught a 57-yard pass from Plummer on the first play of the quarter over former Broncos cornerback Denard Walker. Walker had fallen down before Lelie made the catch and the receiver himself dove to snare the ball, then had the presence of mind to get up and run to the Oakland 3-yard line where Walker caught him. On the next play Droughns made up for one of his earlier fumbles by punching the ball into the end zone to put the Broncos back on top at 17-13. The scoring drive took six plays, travelled 83 yards and lasted 3:16.

In another quick sequence of events, Denver pushed its lead to 24-13 when Ellis Johnson intercepted a Collins pass and returned it 32 yards the other way for his first NFL touchdown. On the first play of his team's drive Collins' pass was batted at the line of scrimmage by Monsanto Pope and the ball bounced to Johnson who made a one-handed grab before taking off for the end zone. In the span of sixty seconds Denver had gone from being down 13-10 to up 24-13.

The see-saw nature of the action continued when the Raiders came back with a 52-yard completion from Collins to Porter down the middle allowing Oakland to set up shop with a first-and-goal from Denver's 8-yard line. A 5-yard pass to tight end Doug Jolley set up 2nd-and-goal from the 3. Collins went for Gabriel in the corner of the end zone as Willie Middlebrooks was there to defend and knock the pass away, but he was flagged for pass interference, putting the visitors on the 1-yard line with a first down. The Raiders wanted to run the ball from here but wound up shooting themselves in the foot. On first down, Collins turned to hand the ball off, but lost control of it and it squirted out to Denver's 12 where Marco Coleman downed him. Then the first-round draft pick, tackle Robert Gallery, was whistled for a false start penalty which put Oakland in a 2nd-and-18 situation from the 18. Collins dropped back to pass, threw for the end zone where the Broncos made their second takeaway of the game as John Lynch picked off the pass at the 1-yard line to end the Oakland threat.

This game had now turned into a classic rivalry matchup between the clubs and Oakland made it tighter when it rebounded after its miscues to score another touchdown when Ronald Curry made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone from Collins for another score. The Raiders tried for a two-point conversion, but they were unsuccessful and the score was 24-19 with 6:11 left to play. Oakland moved 41 yards in four plays over 1:49 to make it a five-point game.

The Raiders took the lead back with less than two minutes remaining when Collins threw his third touchdown pass to Jerry Porter. The 5-yard strike put Oakland up 25-24 as they were unable to make the two-point conversion.

Denver got the ball back and moved downfield to the Raiders 24-yard line and put themselves in position to win as Elam strode onto the field. With 31 seconds remaining and on fourth down he attempted a 43-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked by Langston Walker and fell well short, thus sealing the win for Oakland.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Broncos in the Backfield

from FoxSports.com

Traditionally, the team's' running game is at its best late in the season. In the last seven regular-season games of 2003, the Broncos rushed for an average of 195.7 yards. With RB Reuben Droughns running hard and the line in sync, this year should be no different. The running game is crucial because it sets up Jake Plummer's play-action passes and allows him to roll outside the pocket, where he's most productive.

TE Jeb Putzier is a player to watch. He's gaining Plummer's confidence as a downfield receiver, is deceptively fast and has terrific hands. His blocking has improved, and his routes have become more precise. If he is more of a factor, it will help open up the passing game.

Jimmy Spencer was promoted to defensive backs coach, replacing David Gibbs. A player-coach last year, Spencer retired as a player before the season.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Key Issues

From FoxSports.com

The defense isn't forcing enough turnovers, and QB Jake Plummer has 10 interceptions after throwing seven all of last season. Plummer has put up some big numbers but hasn't always played smart football. Opposing quarterbacks are picking on the cornerback opposite Champ Bailey, whether it's Kelly Herndon or Lenny Walls. With LE Trevor Pryce (back) sidelined, the pass rush has become anemic. RE Raylee Johnson and RT Luther Ellis have played well at times, but Pryce's push off the edge is missed. The lack of a pass rush is one reason turnovers have been infrequent.