Updated September 10, 2023 - 8:00 pm
DENVER — To be sure, there will be plenty of teaching points off the Raiders’ 17-16 season-opening win over the Broncos on Sunday.
“That was not a masterpiece out there,” coach Josh McDaniels said.
But as team owner Mark Davis pointed out in the bowels of Empower Field at Mile High: “You want to learn lessons from wins.”
No truer words have been spoken for a franchise that has learned far too many harsh lessons from losses over the years. That includes the painful pointers from their 0-3 start last season that set the stage for a 6-11 finish.
The Raiders narrowly avoided falling into a similar hole to start this season by doing just enough offensively to overcome a handful of unforced errors, a resurgent Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and a 16-10 deficit they faced with eight minutes remaining.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished his Raiders debut with 200 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception on 20-for-26 passing. The highlights were a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to put the Raiders ahead 17-16, two TD throws to Jakobi Meyers and an 11-play drive that ran off the final five minutes.
On the final drive, Garoppolo converted one third down with a completion to Meyers — aided by an unnecessary roughness call on the tackle of Meyers — and another with an 8-yard scramble on third-and-7 to seal the win.
At the center of it all was a defense that held the Broncos to three second-half points and turned them away without a touchdown on two trips into Raiders territory — including one that stalled at the 5-yard line after the Raiders gave Denver new life by roughing the punter.
A touchdown would have put the Broncos ahead by two scores. Instead, Garoppolo and the offense got the ball with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened on the six-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 6-yard TD pass to Meyers with 6:38 left.
“Manufacture victories,” linebacker Robert Spillane said. “No matter how it gets done, we just have to get the job done.”
Unlike last season, when the defense splintered and broke in times of crisis, the Raiders cleaned up mistakes and held firm when called upon.
“It’s a testament to all these guys in the locker room,” said edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who finished with five tackles and a sack. “We’ve been doing it all OTAs, we’ve been doing it all camp, and now we gotta go out there and show the world that we’re improving.”
That included the stop inside the 5-yard line to force the field goal. The denial was crucial on multiple levels, as it followed an interception by Garoppolo in the end zone on third-and-goal a few minutes before.
“That’s the team part of this game that I love,” Garoppolo said. “Everybody coming together, pulling in the same direction. You could feel it on the sideline in the fourth quarter.”
The defense responded again after Garoppolo’s decisive touchdown throw to Meyers. The Raiders blew four double-digit leads last season and lost nine times in one-score games, so it was understandable to wonder if they were up to the challenge.
The three-and-out the Raiders forced — including safety Tre’von Moehrig tackling tight end Adam Trautman 3 yards short of the first down on a third-and-11 pass from Wilson — offered proof that things might be different this season.
“We needed a game like this, game one, to throw us in that water and see how we would react,” cornerback Nate Hobbs said. “Throw us in the deep end, and we swam.”
They did so behind 12 tackles from Hobbs, who set a tone with his physicality and coverage. Linebacker Divine Deablo added nine tackles and came up with a touchdown-saving play when he dived to knock down Wilson’s pass to Brandon Johnson inside the Raiders’ 5.
Rookie cornerback Jakorian Bennett shook off two pass interference calls to finish with seven tackles, and Spillane also had seven tackles.
All of it led to a second-half turnaround in which the Raiders tightened up against the dink and dunk throws Wilson was hurting them with in the first half.
“We had the same calls going; we just had that dog in us to step up,” Hobbs said.