It was an ugly game (really, it was an ugly game), but the Oakland Raiders managed to win their first season opener since 2002. Eight years in a row, the Silver and Black had fallen on opening day. This year though, they beat their rival Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium 23-20 under the lights of Monday Night Football.
The win gave their new head coach Hue Jackson his first victory as Raiders head coach, but it's unlikely he'll be too pleased by what he saw in his team's first performance. The Raiders committed an atrocious 15 penalties for over 131 yards and handed the Broncos five first downs off those penalties. It was an error-filled football game that dragged on through the night.
The Raiders won on offense mainly by utilizing Darren McFadden to bruise up the Broncos on the ground. McFadden's two biggest rushes of 20 yards in the second quarter and 47 yards on an excellent cutback run in the fourth set up the Raiders two only touchdowns, as Jason Campbell found Marcel Reece for a three yard score and then snuck it in on the second TD. McFadden finished with 150 yards on 22 carries. Then Michael Bush finished off the game for the Raiders run attack with a couple of late first down rushes to run out the clock on the Broncos.
Perhaps the most crucial element that produced a Raiders road victory were the turnovers. Oakland actually stumbled first when Raiders wide reciever Jacoby Ford fumbled a completion, but Oakland's defense held and the Broncos were forced to settle for a field goal.
After that though, it was Denver making the crucial errors. Denver tailback Knowshon Moreno fumbled a ball at Denver's 23 that was recovered by Raiders safety Tyvon Branch, which led to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal and a 10-3 Raiders lead. Later in the first half, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton had a miscommunication with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (who never looked back for the ball); Raiders safety Matt Giordano leapt toward the ball and picked it off. Janikowski then booted an NFL-tying record 63 yard field goal before halftime to give Oakland a 16-3 halftime lead.
The worst turnover came early in the fourth; with the Raiders nursing a 16-13 lead and Denver bordering the Oakland red zone, Orton simply lost the ball--he dropped back to pass and the ball slipped out of his grasp. Lamarr Houston recovered for the Raiders, McFadden ran down the field a few players later, and Oakland took a decisive advantage. The Broncos committed three turnovers and nearly lost the ball twice more on additional fumbles, plus they committed ten penalties of their own.
Oakland and Denver both look like they have a lot of improving to do if they expect to surpass the Chargers in the AFC West. The Raiders did show a great deal of defensive fortitude, but it was offset by all the penalties and some luck via the turnover game. Campbell had a decent game in terms of finding his receivers by completing 59% of his passes, but he barely could stretch the defense, passing for only 105 yards and a pretty pedestrian 4.8 passing yards per attempt.
Thankfully for the Raiders, McFadden was up for making the big plays when they needed them on Monday night.