ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Down by three early in the fourth quarter of the season opener, the Broncos looked poised to tie or even take the lead from the Oakland Raiders after trailing the majority of the game.
But on first-and-10 at the Oakland 24-yard line, with rain coming down, the ball slipped out of Kyle Orton’s hands and the Raiders recovered the fumble. Three plays later, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell was in the end zone to push Oakland’s lead back to 10 in an eventual 23-20 win at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“I don’t know (what happened) to be honest with you, it’s never really happened before,” Orton said of his fumble. “It’s just one of those deals that’s sickening to have happen to you.”
Orton — who finished the game with 304 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception — bounced back to find running back Lance Ball for a 9-yard touchdown, pulling the Broncos back to within a field goal with just under four minutes to go. But the Raiders picked up three first downs to close out the victory on Monday Night Football.
“All-in-all we came up three points short,” Head Coach John Fox said. “We will look at it on tape and try to evaluate it, digest it and try to improve on it next week against Cincinnati.”
The Broncos started Monday’s game quickly enough, taking an early 3-0 lead on a 28-yard Matt Prater field goal, but the Raiders answered with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to Marcel Reece early in the second quarter.
Oakland never surrendered the lead, going up 16-3 at halftime thanks to a 63-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal that tied an NFL record also held by former Broncos kicker Jason Elam.
Eric Decker put the Broncos back on the board after halftime with a 90-yard punt return, and Prater tacked on another field goal to pull the team within three towards the end of the third quarter — but the run ended when the ball slipped out of Orton’s hands.
“We still battled back to 23-20,” Fox said. “We came close with Eric Decker’s return, and battled back there at the end. We just came up a little short.”
In the end, the Raiders held the Broncos to 38 rushing yards, sacking Orton four times and forcing three turnovers with an at-times dominating defensive performance.
“We couldn’t move the ball,” said Decker, who was the team’s second-leading receiver with 53 yards. “We were really playing from behind. You can look at one play, two plays but really the structure of the game, we made too many mistakes to give ourselves a chance to win.”
While the Broncos struggled to get a running game going, the Raiders racked up 190 yards on the ground led by Darren McFadden.
The fourth-year back continued his recent stretch of success against Denver, amassing 150 rushing yards.
“The Raiders are a great team,” said Von Miller, who forced a fumble on the first defensive snap of the game. “I’m not going to take anything away from them. They have a great backfield, but I felt like we had opportunities to take advantage of and we didn’t take advantage of them. All we can do is just come back to work, correct our mistakes and move forward.”
Some of those mistakes included 10 penalties for 91 yards — but the Raiders’ 15 for 131 helped offset them Monday. It tied for the fourth-most penalties committed by a Broncos opponent, and the 131 yards were the ninth-most ever by a Broncos opponent — the highest total since the Chiefs’ 137 in 1998.
Fox said the team will address the mistakes this week and look to build on the bright spots from a tough loss.
“We still have optimism,” the head coach said. “This was a game against a team that swept our division a year ago. It’s a team that whacked us twice a year ago. There’s no consolation for ‘close,’ but I think we’re still optimistic. We are just at 0-1 like half the teams in our football league.”