Tuesday September 13th, 2011

Darren McFadden paced the Raiders' offense Monday night with 150 yards on the ground. (Ron Chenoy/US Presswire)

It didn't even take three full quarters for some Broncos fans to start chanting for Tim Tebow on Monday night. Unless they wanted Tebow to take over a spot on the offensive line, his presence probably wouldn't have mattered much anyways.

Denver wound up on the short end of a 23-20 tally in its season-opener, a crushing defeat against AFC West rival Oakland, and from the sound of it -- "Te-bow! Te-bow! Te-bow!" -- the home crowd was ready to pin that loss on Kyle Orton.

No, Orton wasn't at his best Monday, hitting just 24 of his 46 passes, throwing an interception and simply dropping the ball while he set to throw for a second turnover. But everything he did came with the Raiders' defensive line in his face. Oakland recorded four sacks and forced Denver to commit numerous holding penalties.

Even on Denver's final scoring drive, which pulled the Broncos within three, Orton took hit after hit but managed to get his team into the end zone.

Denver and Oakland combined for 25 penalties in a chippy, drawn-out, sloppy mess of a game. Aside from some discipline problems, it was exactly what the Raiders wanted. Their defensive line dominated Denver's front, most of the time accomplishing that goal without bringing a blitz.

The pressure resulted in a distressed Orton and a nonexistent Denver running game -- Knowshon Moreno had just eight carries for 22 yards and Orton's 13-yard scramble was the Broncos' longest rush of the game.

Oakland has now won eight in a row within the AFC West, dating back to a Week 15 victory at Denver in 2009. The Raiders followed that up with a 6-0 intra-division mark in 2010 and Monday's win.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, this was supposed to be their party, a national-TV audience tuning in to see how new head coach John Fox was going to turn things around after a 4-12 season. Instead, Denver was physically manhandled by a better team.

And this quarterback issue? It's not going away.

There were rumors once the lockout ended that Denver wanted to trade Orton, who's in the final year of a two-year deal. The fact that the Broncos kept him and Fox committed to him as the team's No. 1 QB meant little to a fan base that seems to adamantly believe that Tebow is their future.

That attitude will no doubt pin the goat label on Orton with Denver off to an 0-1 start.

It was pretty apparent for much of Monday, though, that the Broncos had their work cut out for them. A Jacoby Ford fumble deep in Oakland territory gift-wrapped Denver's only three points of the first half, as the Raiders stormed out to a commanding 16-3 halftime lead.

They deserved every bit of that lead, too, and certainly earned the win. While the questions swirl in Denver, we have to consider the possibility that Oakland is a legitimate threat in the AFC West.

Quarterback Jason Campbell, a maligned figure in his own right, played a controlled game, throwing for 105 yards and accounting for a pair of touchdowns. Darren McFadden, meanwhile, knocked out 150 yards on the ground and Sebastian Janikowski nailed three field goals, including an NFL record-tying 63-yarder.

Then there's the defense. If there is one spot where you can clearly see how much the Raiders have improved from the past couple of years, it's up front on D. Oakland is aggressive and tough, both traits that were put on display over and over again Monday.

Orton took the brunt of that Oakland attack, and in turn, bore the weight of the Broncos fans' angst. But it's hard to blame Orton for Denver's loss when his offensive line never even gave him a chance.

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