Playing in what might have been their final game at the Oakland Coliseum, the Raiders (4-11) delivered a gutsy performance against the Broncos (6-9) in a contest devoid of playoff implications. Here's what we learned from the Raiders' 27-14 win on Christmas Eve during the final "Monday Night Football" game of the season:
- The Raiders' win didn't help their chances of being the first team on the clock in Nashville this April, but it did showcase some encouraging signs for their offense. Derek Carr put in a steady performance, leaning heavily on short and medium-range passes underneath that relied on receivers Jordy Nelson and Jalen Richard winning position battles rather than foot races. The formula, which has been deployed by coach Jon Gruden to very limited success, carved up the weak underbelly of a Broncos defense. Although Carr's hair-trigger passing attack has created issues for an Oakland team that has struggled mightily on third down, it provided a perfect complement to a running game that saw consistent gains all night against a laggy and greasy-handed Broncos defense. Carr finished the game connecting on 19 of 26 passes for 167 yards. It was a strong, crowd-pleasing performance for a Raiders team that found a level of retribution following its heartbreaking loss to the Broncos in Week 2.
Carr and Gruden ended their night by giving fans in The Black Hole and all around the Oakland Coliseum high-fives. If Monday does indeed mark the end of the Raiders in Oakland, at least they went out winners with the fans enthusiastically cheering them on. It remains to be seen where the Raiders will play next year amid an ongoing federal antitrust lawsuit filed against them by the city of Oakland.
"I'm really proud of our team," Gruden said. "I'm really thankful for our fans. They were there every game for us and I appreciate their support."
Carr also was appreciative of the fans support.
"I know it stings," Carr said. "I know it hurts that we might not play here ... but I was going to make sure that, if this was the last time, I wanted to say thank you in whatever way I could. So anyone that sees this, Raider Nation, thank you. I love you. My family loves you, and you guys are the most loyal fans in the world."
- The Muscle Hamster flexed his long-dormant skill set and made pellets out of the Broncos' defense. Doug Martin, who more or less has been a non-factor in the Raiders' offense this year, churned out a season-best 107 yards. He started off his big night with a 24-yard touchdown run that helped the Raiders jump out to a 14-0 lead. The offensive line consistently stymied the Broncos' pass rush, creating big lanes for Martin to burst through. It was the kind of performance that might make you think the 29-year-old still has something left to give an NFL team -- even if it came against the league's 25th-ranked defense. Whether it'll be enough to keep him around for another season in Silver and Black remains to be seen.
- Speaking of players coming out of the Oakland Coliseum woodwork -- Dwayne Harris scored one of the most thrilling touchdowns of the season to set the tone early. After the Denver Broncos tried to keep a Raiders punt out of the end zone, Harris scooped up the loose ball on Oakland's 1-yard line and returned it 99 yards for the score. The play, which tied for the second-longest punt return in NFL history, sent Gruden into a fist-raising frenzy on the sideline. For Harris, it was his first touchdown since his 2016 campaign with the New York Giants. Per NFL Research, Harris joins Patrick Peterson (99 yards) and Robert Bailey (103) as the only players to score a TD on a punt return of 99 yards or more.
- Broncos general manager John Elway's stern-faced demeanor, captured on camera at different points during Monday's game broadcast, provided the perfect barometer for what continues to be a deteriorating situation in Denver. The Broncos' lackluster showing, especially in the first half, cannot bode well for head coach Vance Joseph's tenure with the team. While Phillip Lindsay's early exit in the second half because of a wrist injury complicated Denver's comeback efforts, it's hard to legitimize giving up 17 unanswered first-half points to a division bottom-scraper. Monday's loss, Denver's third in a row, could very well turn out to be Exhibit 1A in the case for Joseph's potential dismissal.
"It's frustrating," Joseph said about the Broncos' season. "Our team, I thought, we maxed out every game. Probably the Jets game we didn't max out. But it didn't feel good today. We didn't play good enough football to win, offensively. Defensively, we had our moments, but we still gave up two big drives when we had to get stops. So we didn't play winning football today."
- While Joseph does deserve some of the blame for the Broncos' shortcomings, their struggles on defense in tandem with inconsistencies on offense kept them from challenging the Raiders. It wasn't until the middle of the third quarter that Case Keenum crossed the Raiders' 40-yard line on what was a fine-looking, 82-yard drive capped off with 7-yard touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton. However, after the Raiders pieced together a seven-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter, the Keenum comeback machine broke down. Marcus Gilchrist and Erik Harris picked off Keenum on consecutive possessions to annihilate the Broncos' chances for victory. Keenum's ho-hum 23-of-37 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns showcased his limitations in an offense that's sorely missing Emmanuel Sanders' production.
"We got off to a poor start again. Offensively, we moved the ball decently, but ... we couldn't keep drives alive," Joseph said. "We have to get to a better start and help the defense with scoring some points early so we can play on our terms some."