DENVER — A year ago, Shelby Harris batted down Derek Carr‘s last-second two-point conversion attempt to seal a one-point win for the Broncos.
This time around, with Harris on injured reserve, there was no jubilation to cap a game and a season.
Carr and the Raiders capped a last-minute comeback with a touchdown and two-point conversion to earn a 32-31 win on Sunday and sweep the Broncos for the first time since 2010.
The Raiders’ late comeback in part overshadowed a performance in which the Broncos played some of their best football of the season.
The Denver defense forced four turnovers, while Drew Lock and Jerry Jeudy combined for one of their most productive games as a duo.
Late-game struggles, though, doomed the Broncos’ chances to send the Raiders to a 10th-consecutive season-closing loss.
As the Broncos head into the offseason with a 5-11 record, here are our key takeaways from a Week 17 division showdown.
Lock, Jeudy Finish Strong
With the Broncos facing third-and-10 from the own 8-yard line, the offense faced a critical moment in the game. The Raiders had just capped a 9-play, 90-yard drive to tie the game at 24, and the Broncos were on the verge of a three-and-out after a Melvin Gordon run for no gain and an incompletion to Jerry Jeudy. After the timeout, though, Lock and Jeudy made their highest-profile connection of their young partnership.
Lined up out wide in a trips formation, Jeudy found a soft spot in the Raiders’ defense 20 yards downfield and hauled in his fourth pass of the game. From there, he used his speed to get to the edge and sprinted up the sideline for a 92-yard go-ahead score. The play was the longest reception of any NFL player this season and is the Broncos’ longest scoring play since 2008.
“The way I’m wired, I knew last game was going to be one of the last bad games I have my whole life,” Jeudy said. “I learned a lot from that game. Coming into this game I was just a lot more focused, a lot more focused on the details and just catching the ball.”
Jeudy later caught a 25-yard pass to open the Broncos’ last-gasp attempt at a win, which gave him five catches for 140 yards and a touchdown on the day. He also caught a two-point conversion attempt. He finishes his rookie season with 856 yards, second only to Eddie Royal in Broncos rookie history.
“I’m very happy for Jerry that he bounced back the way he did,” Fangio said. “I knew he would. I thought last week’s game could have been a defining moment for him that he needed to come back from and he obviously did. I’m happy for him.”
Lock’s performance was also encouraging, as he threw for more than 300 yards for the third time in his career and posted a quarterback rating of over 100 for just the second time this season.
“Drew, I thought, played well,” Fangio said. “He was [25-of-41], we had over 300 yards, no picks. We didn’t turn the ball over. I thought overall, Drew played good football.”
The Broncos reached the 30-point mark for the second time in the last four weeks and scored 21 second-half points.
Lock also avoided turning the ball over for just the second time this season.
“That’s critical every game,” Lock said. “That was big for us to do, but it was all about winning and we didn’t do it.”
Broncos Dominate Turnover Battle
Lock and the offense did their part by not giving the Raiders free possessions, and the defense did its job, as well.
The Broncos forced four turnovers on Sunday against the Raiders and held a plus-4 turnover margin for the first time since Week 12 in 2018.
Three of Denver’s takeaways came in the second half, as the Broncos picked off Derek Carr twice and forced a fumble to set up a go-ahead score. Carr had not thrown an interception in his last nine games against Denver, a streak that dated back to early in the 2015 season.
Justin Simmons ended that streak in the third quarter, and Kareem Jackson snagged another in the fourth quarter.
Michael Ojemudia also forced a pair of fumbles, his third and fourth takeaways of the season.
“We definitely make an emphasis to getting the ball back to the offense and we do a lot of work with punching the ball off, getting your head on the ball, so we work on that type of stuff,” Ojemudia said. “During the game, when you’re in those moments, you just have to execute.”
If the Broncos had a fault on Sunday, though, it was their inability to capitalize on those turnovers. Denver scored just 14 points off the four turnovers, including just one touchdown. After Jackson’s interception, the Broncos had the ball in field-goal range and could have taken a 10-point lead with under 12 minutes to play, but Lock took an 11-yard sack that forced Denver to punt.
“We had some big hits that jarred the ball out twice, which was great to see,” Fangio said. “We had a couple picks, one from each of our safeties, that were good to see. It’s rare that you lose a game when you are plus-four; I’m not sure what the stats are but it’s really, really high.”
Denver Struggles Late
After the Jeudy touchdown, the Broncos forced a Las Vegas punt with 2:46 to play and a chance to ice the game, but the final three minutes weren’t kind to the Broncos.
Taking over at their own 10-yard line, Melvin Gordon III took his first carry for seven yards and forced the Raiders to burn their first timeout. On the next play, though, Gordon ended his 15-yard carry by stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock. On the next play, a holding call on Noah Fant wiped out a 19-yard Gordon gain.
Backed up in a first-and-20 situation, the Broncos were unable to gain another first down. They did force the Raiders to burn their final two timeouts, but Gordon’s decision to go out of bounds allowed the Raiders to regain possession with 1:47 to play, rather than just north of a minute.
Big plays by Zay Jones (37 yards) and Darren Waller (10 yards and 21 yards) pushed the Raiders into the red zone quickly, but the Broncos buckled down inside the 10-yard line. With the Raiders facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Broncos called a timeout to save time for the next drive, although nearly 10 seconds came off the clock between the end of the third-down play and the timeout. Then, after a Josh Jacobs touchdown, the Broncos burned their final timeout before the two-point conversion.
“We just wanted to make sure that we knew exactly who they had in there and how we wanted to play it,” Fangio said. “I thought it was more valuable at that time to use that timeout. I would have liked to save it obviously but the game at that point was coming down to that two points or not.”
The Broncos had just 24 seconds to get into field-goal range, and Lock found Jeudy to give Brandon McManus a chance at a 63-yard field goal. For the second time in the game, though, McManus’ long field goal attempt was blocked.
“We haven’t been able to finish games when we have the lead the right way,” Fangio said. “We’ve protected the lead in four of our five wins. [In some], we had to go out there and preserve the win and we did. We had others when we didn’t. We needed to do better when we had the ball on our last drive. We went out of bounds. We had a penalty, which hurt us. Those are the things we have to improve on.”
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