OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—The Denver Broncos went back to the formula they used to start the season: a stifling defense that made up for the mistakes of the offense.
Jake Plummer overcame three interceptions to throw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Kyle Johnson early in the fourth quarter and the Broncos forced two fumbles down the stretch to seal a 17-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
After breaking through with 31-point performances the past two weeks, Denver (7-2) reverted to its early season form when the defense dominated and often won in spite of the offense.
While that proved to be more than enough against the struggling Raiders (2-7), the Broncos know they’ll need to be better when the competition gets tougher starting with next week’s first-place showdown against San Diego.
“The good thing about it is we got a win, but we didn’t play our best game,” receiver Javon Walker said. “We left a lot of yards out there on the field. We made a lot of penalties and put ourselves in bad positions. We knew we could have played better.”
The winning touchdown came after a fumbled punt by Denver was overruled by an obscure penalty call against Oakland.
The Raiders appeared in control when they recovered David Kircus’ fumble at the Denver 20. But instead of adding to a 13-7 lead, Oakland was forced to punt again when Chris Carr was called for a personal foul for running out of bounds on the coverage.
“I was out of bounds longer than I probably should have been,” Carr said. “It was a close call. Sometimes they’ll call it, sometimes they won’t.”
After the second punt, Denver started its drive on its 40. Plummer completed seven straight passes and gave the Broncos a 14-13 lead on a fourth-down, play-action pass to Johnson with 11:06 to play.
“Coach (Mike) Shanahan is a riverboat gambler,” Johnson said. “This time it came up in our favor.”
The Raiders went three-and-out on the next drive and backed Denver down to the 2 on a 55-yard punt by Shane Lechler. But when Oakland most needed a stop, Plummer was able to get three first downs and move the ball into Raiders territory.
Oakland took over at its 17 with 4:03 remaining, but Kenard Lang beat backup left tackle Chad Slaughter, sacked Andrew Walter and forced a fumble that John Engelberger recovered for the Broncos at the 12. That set up Jason Elam’s 24-yard field goal with 1:56 to go.
Walter fumbled the snap to start the next drive—his second lost fumble in as many plays—sending Oakland to its 11th straight loss against AFC West opponents.
“I know our defense is going to play well,” said Plummer, who finished 21-for-30 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. “Even if we start slow and get behind, we’ve just got to keep pushing. We’re putting ourselves in some tough spots, but we’re pulling it out when it matters, and that’s only going to pay off down the stretch in the season.”
Walter was 18-for-33 for 214 yards and the two fumbles. Randy Moss caught only one pass—for eight yards—and the Raiders were shut out in the second half for the fourth time this season. They have scored only seven offensive touchdowns all year.
In a veiled shot at offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, Walter said the Raiders are too predictable on offense.
“We don’t have a lot of depth as far as our playbook goes,” he said. “They made some adjustments and started coming after us in the second half.”
Oakland’s moribund offense finally got the help it needed early in the first quarter when Plummer threw a pass behind Walker that was intercepted by Nnamdi Asomugha, who returned it to the Denver 15. That set LaMont Jordan’s 1-yard score, ending a streak of 34 straight possessions without an offensive touchdown for Oakland.
Plummer was intercepted by Fabian Washington on fourth-and-1 from Denver’s 49 on the next possession, but Oakland couldn’t capitalize.
“We kept getting interceptions, but I guess it’s one of those deals where when we get the interceptions, we have to score with it,” safety Stuart Schweigert said.
Denver’s offense couldn’t move the ball at all for most of the first quarter before a 42-yard punt return by Kircus got the ball to Oakland’s 41.
Plummer hit Walker on a slant on third down, Walker eluded Schweigert near the 20 and raced in for his fifth TD in the last three games. Before that, Plummer was just 1-for-7 with two interceptions.
Sebastian Janikowski kicked two field goals to give Oakland a 13-7 halftime lead, including a 55-yarder that tied his own franchise record.
RB Mike Bell, Denver’s second-leading rusher, was healthy but inactive for the game as Shanahan chose to play Damien Nash, who was activated from the practice squad before the game. Nash ran for 14 yards on four carries. … Denver swept Oakland for the eighth time in 12 seasons. … Janikowski also kicked a 55-yarder on Nov. 2, 2003, at Detroit.