Eddie Royal breaks away on a punt return to give the Denver Broncos a fourth-quarter lead. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
As Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow warmed up before Sunday’s game against the Raiders at O.co Coliseum, fans in the Black Hole unfurled a “Welcome to Hell” banner for his viewing pleasure.
A few hours later, however, it was the Raiders and their fans who had burn marks.
The Raiders, who led 17-7 at halftime, imploded in the second half, giving up 31 points en route to a 38-24 defeat.
Oakland’s defense was shredded by Denver’s running game, as Willis McGahee ran for 163 yards and two TDs, and Tebow – who looked awful against the Lions last week – rushed for 117 yards while also throwing for 124 yards and two TDs.
On 38 rushing attempts, Denver averaged a whopping 7.8 yards per carry.
The Raiders still were in the game entering the fourth quarter, tied 24-all, but Eddie Royal returned a punt 85 yards to put Denver on top, then McGahee broke off a 24-yard TD run just after the 2-minute warning to put Denver up by 14.
On their next possession, the Raiders’ Carson Palmer threw his third interception of the game to Champ Bailey to officially put the game away.
In the fourth quarter, Oakland’s possessions ended: punt, punt, punt, interception.
Sunday’s game against the Broncos was a golden opportunity squandered, with the result a suddenly very tight four-way race in the AFC West.
Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego entered the day 4-3, with the Broncos 2-5. With all three co-leaders losing and Denver – which lost to Oakland in the season opener -- pulling off the upset, the battle for first is wide open with half the season remaining.
Suddenly, the Raiders – who were 4-2 just two games ago and excited about their prospects after acquiring veteran quarterback Palmer – have lost back-to-back games to AFC West rivals at home, with a short-week game at San Diego this Thursday night and the status of No. 1 running back Darren McFadden (who could not play Sunday) in doubt.
In his first start for Oakland, Palmer at times flashed the talent he displayed during his years in Cincinnati.
His two TD passes in the first half to Michael Bush and Marcel Reese helped give Oakland its 10-point halftime cushion.
But Palmer threw two picks in the second half, including one late in the third quarter which led to McGahee’s 60-yard TD run that tied the game at 24.