Two weeks after beating the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in an overtime thriller, the Denver Broncos had arguably their worst performance of the season Sunday, losing at home to Oakland, 15-12.
The Broncos failed to find the end zone, mustered just four field goals – all in the first half – and couldn’t catch wide-open passes to sustain drives late in the fourth quarter.
Now 10-3, the Broncos trail New England (11-2) and Cincinnati (10-3)for first first-round byes in the AFC.
Was Sunday a heavy dose of reality for Broncos fans? Did they realize that Brock Osweiler, who was sacked five times by Khalil Mack, can’t be the second coming of Peyton Manning?
“Yeah, and look, it was the first game where really he hasn’t had a running game; all of a sudden, everything got put on his shoulders and he wasn’t able to be quite as effective,” CBS Sports NFL analyst Brady Quinn said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “When you compare him to Peyton Manning, to me, there’s no comparison. This is a quarterback who was able to have a number of starts. The book’s out. People kind of know how to attack Brock Osweiler in the pocket, how to rush him, how to confuse him a little for the coverages. If you can stop that running game and put it all on him, you see what happens. So clearly, I don’t think there should be any more discussion. I think it was stupid to hear about it in the first place, that anyone’s thinking Osweiler should play over Peyton Manning.”
The Raiders limited Ronnie Hillman to 20 yards on 12 carries (1.7 yards per carry) and Juwan Thompson to eight yards on five carries (1.6). Osweiler was forced to drop back 51 times, completing 35 passes for 308 yards.
To be fair, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both lost fumbles during the game, and Vernon Davis dropped a ball in space in the final minutes that would have moved the chains and extended a potentially game-tying – or game-winning – drive. Instead, the Broncos turned it over on downs, losing to Oakland for the first time since September 2011, despite holding the Raiders to minus-12 yards in the first half.
Denver has scored just 29 points in its last two games.
“The biggest question in my mind is if the Broncos indeed need to play Manning toward the end of the season to try to lock up home-field advantage or something of that nature,” Quinn said. “Do you play Peyton Manning at 80 or 85 percent or a healthy Brock Osweiler just to try to get home-field advantage or just to try to get in that playoff position? That’s kind of the biggest question to me. Do you risk bringing Manning back before he’s 100 percent healthy just to ensure that spot in the playoffs?”
Time will tell. The Broncos play the red-hot Steelers (8-5) in Pittsburgh this Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET. The Steelers have won four of five, with the only loss coming to the Seahawks in Seattle.