Broncos win AFC West, earn bye
DENVER ” Win the AFC West, earn a well-deserved week off, embarrass the Raiders. It was the kind of day they dream about in Broncoland, the likes of which they haven’t celebrated in the seven long seasons since Denver’s last Super Bowl title.
Jake Plummer threw for 268 yards, Mike Anderson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the season and the Broncos closed out an undefeated season at home Saturday with a 22-3 victory over archrival Oakland.
“I’m at a loss for words,” defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “I’ve been in the league seven years and I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”
At kickoff, Denver (12-3) had already secured its first division title since 1998 thanks to San Diego’s 20-7 loss at Kansas City. Cincinnati’s loss to Buffalo gave the Broncos a chance to wrap up the second seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that goes with it.
All that was left was to beat the Raiders (4-11) and that wound up not being too big a challenge.
“We just weren’t able to match the things they were able to do,” Raiders coach Norv Turner said.
Neither Turner nor quarterback Kerry Collins did anything to reverse the thinking that this could be their second-to-last game with Oakland.
Collins went 17-for-41 for 178 yards and an interception in the Denver end zone after being flushed from the pocket. Turner oversaw an offense that moved the ball at times, but was overcome on almost every drive by untimely mistakes: illegal procedure, holding, dropped passes, receivers who slipped.
“They’re a good team and you can’t make mistakes against them, whether it’s dropped passes or interceptions before the half or penalties that hurt us,” Collins said.
Only Sebastian Janikowski’s 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter prevented the Raiders from being shut out for the first time since 1997. Even so, they lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-17 against Denver’s Mike Shanahan, the coach Al Davis fired early in the 1989 season.
“That’s been a long time ago,” Shanahan said, when asked if he enjoys beating up on Davis more than anyone. “I was pleased because his defense had given up only one 300-yard game since we played them last,” six weeks ago in Oakland.
The Broncos gained 414.
They finished 8-0 at home for the first time since 1998, when they won their second Super Bowl and played at Mile High Stadium, which is now a parking lot across the street from the new Invesco Field.
They assured themselves their first home playoff game since then, and thanks to Cincy’s unexpected loss, they guaranteed it would be the weekend of Jan. 14-15, two weeks after next Saturday’s finale at San Diego.
“It’s pretty basic math,” Shanahan said. “The opportunity we have is a great one.”
Next week could be light, too. Because the Chargers are out of the playoff race and the Broncos have nothing to play for, Shanahan could rest Plummer and some other starters.
Among those who might get a break are Anderson, who rushed for 46 yards and a score. He surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career ” a successful return after missing all of 2004 with a torn groin ” but left in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Receiver Rod Smith, not surprisingly, said he wants to play.
Cornerback Champ Bailey, hampered with injuries all season, wouldn’t mind some rest. Backup quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt said he’d be ready to go.
“Everyone will have different opinions on what to do,” he said. “Some people will say you should play the starters the whole game, then when somebody gets hurt, they change their minds and say you guys are dummies. … We’ll go with our gut feeling.”
It’s a good dilemma to have and the Broncos were well on their way to having it by halftime.
Anderson’s 2-yard touchdown run put Denver ahead 16-0 in the second quarter. Oakland’s best chance to get back in the game ended a few minutes later after Collins led the Raiders deep into Denver territory, but threw a third-and-goal interception to Nick Ferguson.
The Raiders held the Broncos to field goals on three trips inside the 20, but it was an exhausting effort.
Led by Plummer’s efficient passing ” 19-for-29, one interception ” and the running of Anderson and Tatum Bell (71 yards), Denver held the ball for 38 1/2 minutes.
Notes: Starting in place of injured LaMont Jordan, Zack Crockett ran six straight times for 31 yards to start the game for Oakland. He finished with only 61 yards on 15 carries. … Denver WR Ashley Lelie needed 14 stitches on his right elbow after getting hit by a helmet. … With five catches for 91 yards, Smith surpassed Gary Clark for 16th on the NFL’s all-time receiving list (10,866 yards).
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