ALAMEDA, Calif. — Call it the first impression the Denver Broncos didn’t want to make in the football new year, but after an offseason of planning, adding new players such as quarterback Joe Flacco and saying better days were ahead on offense, the first play from scrimmage in the new season went for … minus-5 yards.
And while the Broncos did eventually scratch and claw in the second half to show a little backbone in a 24-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders, their inability to close the deal for touchdowns is now more than just last year’s problem and has carried over from the preseason.
“As ugly as it was for us in the first half we fought really hard,” Flacco said. “And at the end of the day, they were able to score down there to keep the momentum of the drive and we weren’t.”
“That was really a big difference in the game in spite of everything,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “They scored touchdowns and we didn’t.”
When all was said and done, the Raiders’ yardage total (357) was similar to the Broncos’ (344), and Oakland quarterback Derek Carr‘s 259 yards passing were less than Flacco’s 268. The Raiders’ 98 rushing yards, led by rookie Josh Jacobs‘ 85, were barely more than the Broncos’ 95 yards on the ground.
But what the Raiders did was turn four trips inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line into three touchdowns, while the Broncos turned their three trips inside the red zone into just one touchdown. Another Broncos drive ended at the Raiders’ 21, as Brandon McManus‘ third field goal of the night was for 39 yards.
“I didn’t see much that was good obviously,” Fangio said when asked about the offense. “We didn’t make the plays down there, that’s for sure.”
This was a problem the Broncos carried through the summer, as the regulars put together just one touchdown drive in limited duty in the preseason and no touchdown drives in the two preseason games Flacco played.
In spite of that, first-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello believed he had made progress in installing a scheme whose roots stem from both Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. But this past week Scangarello also said “when you don’t take a lot of preseason reps, when you don’t do a lot of live action, sometimes the run game takes some time to get flowing. It could be a quarter, it could be a half, it could be a game. You don’t know that.”
And the Broncos’ run game was balky early, at least in part because they didn’t have a chance to try it much. They had just three possessions in the first half and were down 14-0 after three Raiders possessions.
As a result, the Broncos had just seven rushing attempts in the first half. When they were in a position to commit to it a little more they flashed some power, rushing for a combined 77 yards in their first two second-half possessions. Both drives ended with field goals, though.
“We got the ball across the 50 and we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Flacco said. ” … We just found ourselves behind the sticks a lot.”
Even with all their struggles, the Broncos did have a chance to snatch momentum in the third quarter. Trailing 14-3 and facing a third-and-5 from the Raiders’ 8-yard line, Flacco found an open DaeSean Hamilton in the end zone for what could have been a game-changing touchdown.
But Hamilton dropped the ball. Instead, the Broncos had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from McManus.
“A game-changer right there, in my eyes,” Hamilton said. “Game-changer … I’ve got to make that play.”
“I know how he feels about it … but those things happen, that’s not why we lost the game,” Flacco said. “I’m going to be on his side.”
Emmanuel Sanders, who finished with 86 yards and a touchdown, also lost a potential big play or two when he slipped multiple times, and Courtland Sutton‘s 120 yards receiving were lost in the failure to score.
“Should have made certain plays when the ball was supposed to be going to me and I kept slipping in the damn grass,” Sanders said. “I’m very disappointed with myself, disappointed with the loss.”
In all, the Broncos haven’t scored more than 16 points in game since a 24-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Dec. 2, which also happens to be the team’s last victory.
“We’ve got to do a better job coaching it and a better job executing it,” Fangio said.