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Raiders send a message from atop the AFC West with signature win over Broncos

The Raiders are for real. For the first time in a long time, Oakland was up to the task against a fellow contender on a national stage.

The Raiders beat the Broncos Sunday night, 30–20, to grab their seventh win of the season—a momentous accomplishment in itself, considering Oakland has not finished above .500 nor made the playoffs since 2002.

This victory was more than that, though. Playing against a rival which prides itself on lowering the boom, a Denver team that steamrolled its way through opponent after opponent en route to a title last season, the Raiders were tougher. They were more physical. They were able to impose their will. (They also were, for the most part, healthier. We’ll get to that.)

Their Week 6 loss to the Chiefs spurred some doubt, but it’s time to embrace reality: The Raiders are for real.

“We’re growing to expect success now,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said.

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The final score doesn’t even tell the whole story. Oakland manhandled Denver from the outset. When Raiders running back Latavius Murray gave his team a 13–0 lead with the first of his three touchdowns, the Broncos still did not have a first down to their credit. The total yards at that point: Oakland 146, Denver 9. Only a sensational 69-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown reception from Kapri Bibbs eventually brought the Broncos back to respectability.

While Oakland quarterback Derek Carr has drawn much of the attention this season, the Raiders’ offensive line Sunday night—and, arguably, all season—has been at least as critical a factor. The left side combo of tackle Donald Penn and guard Kelechi Osemele was especially dominant against the Broncos, paving the way for 218 rushing yards, the most allowed by Denver’s defense in two years.

Denver's depleted depth chart didn't help. The Broncos were without corners Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, then lost defensive Derek Wolfe and linebacker Brandon Marshall at various points during the game.

Von Miller still recorded a sack of Carr, because he is a superhuman dynamo off the edge, but all in all Carr had a clean pocket from which to work. Murray and fellow RBs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington found holes up front, too, and hit them with authority.

For all the yards the passing attack has racked up, Oakland boasts an underappreciated run game that entered Sunday eighth in the league in yards. And Denver’s defense, despite its reputation, has been very suspect between the tackles (25th against the run) following the departures of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in free agency and a preseason injury to Vance Walker.

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Carr helped lay the foundation early, completing a total of eight passes on Oakland’s first three drives—all of which ended in points. Once he did, the run game really took over, controlling the clock and grinding down Denver’s defense.

The Broncos actually closed within 20–13 just nine seconds into the fourth quarter, but the Raiders responded with a 10-play field goal drive over 6:37 of game clock to stretch their lead back to 10. On their next possession a few moments later, Murray punched the ball in to all but ice away a victory.

Things were not any smoother for Denver on the other side of the ball, either. Quarterback Trevor Siemian did throw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, but he never seemed all that comfortable Sunday night. No surprise, considering his team’s ground game was a no-show yet again—Devontae Booker and Bibbs produced all of 33 yards on 12 carries.

Oakland also forced Siemian into a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers: Khalil Mack sacked him and forced a fumble, setting up Murray’s final touchdown, then Siemian fired a pick to Reggie Nelson to extinguish Denver’s comeback hopes just before the two-minute warning.

The outcome, and the way it happened, was only surprising in the context of Oakland’s recent history. It’s only natural to expect a franchise that has struggled for so long to crumble. A prime-time game against the reigning champs would have been a perfect time for that to happen.

Instead, the Raiders delivered what may have been their most complete outing of the season. Without question, it was the best they’ve played at home in 2016. They currently have a 5–0 road record but were just 1–2 in front of their own fans before Sunday’s showcase.

They rose to the home field advantage with the Broncos visiting. Now? Well, this could get pretty fun. After a Week 10 bye, the Raiders—in first place for the moment by a half-game over Kansas City—head to Mexico City for a Week 11 Monday nighter against the Texans. After that, it’s back to Oakland for games against Carolina and Buffalo. So long as the Raiders just hold the fort over that stretch, they will have a crack at the division title over the season’s final month, when they play all three of their AFC West rivals on the road.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse. This season has been as unpredictable as ever, hence the Raiders being atop the AFC West in the first place.

So, live in the moment. Enjoy it, Oakland. This has been a long time coming.

The Raiders took it to the Broncos on Sunday night, and that should be enough to convince anyone that there’s a new threat in the AFC West.