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Oakland Raiders Shake off Old Image with Notable Road Victory

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2015

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 13:  Tight end Mychal Rivera #81 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates after a 16 yard fourth quarter touchdown reception for  at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 13, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders finally beat the bully in the AFC West sandbox in a physical matchup that further transformed the team's image.

Change doesn’t transpire overnight, but the Raiders finally earned a notable victory worth pointing to as a sign of what’s to come in the near future.

Oakland has beat down some poor teams this season, including the 4-9 Baltimore Ravens, 3-10 Cleveland Browns, 3-10 San Diego Chargers and 3-10 Tennessee Titans. The Raiders also earned a victory over the 8-5 New York Jets, who lost their starting quarterback in the first series of the game.  

The Raiders earned a victory over the 10-3 Denver Broncos without major mitigating circumstances Sunday, snapping an eight-game losing streak to a team that outscored them 88-31 in 2014: 

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Khalil Mack dominates as Raiders snap 8-game losing streak to Broncos, 15-12. Brock Osweiler loses for 1st time. https://t.co/XYnaBFCXCb

This season, Denver failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Raiders. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. scored the team's only touchdown between the two contests on a pick-six in Week 5.

The Raiders found a way to win a game without their potent passing attack clicking on all cylinders or a productive ground attack.

Oakland’s defense sealed a victory against one of the best teams in the league after coming into this contest as one of the worst in the clutch, per Associated Press writer Josh Dubow:

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Josh Dubow @JoshDubowAP

#Raiders outscored by NFL worst 72 points in 4th quarter this season

It’s the type of victory needed to recognize the Raiders’ resurgence that many had questioned after some bad losses over the past month.

Oakland's strengths were neutralized, but the offense took care of the football and capitalized in the red zone. Additionally, the defense took its lumps but didn't break.

The Raiders needed to find different ways to win football games, and now they must do it consistently to challenge for the division crown in the near future.

Excellence: Khalil Mack Arrives as Premier Pass-Rusher

NFL @NFL

Khalil Mack Sack Khalil Mack Sack Khalil Mack Sack Khalil Mack Sack Khalil Mack Sack #OAKvsDEN https://t.co/kQzmWfPJ3g

Defensive lineman Khalil Mack surged in the sack category and now leads the league with 14 in total. 

Mack generated pressure throughout the season but took baby steps in the sack column: 

Khalil Mack's Sack Production
WeeksSacks
1-94
10-1410
Pro-Football-Reference.com

On Sunday, he placed an exclamation point on his growth as a pass-rusher. He’s no longer just forcing bad throws; he’s taking down quarterbacks at will. The difference between a sack and an incomplete pass made a huge difference against Denver.

Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 68 percent of his passes and seemed deadly accurate in the first half, tying an NFL season-high, per ESPN Stats and Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Brock Osweiler's 22 completions are tied for the most by any QB in a 1st half this season (Philip Rivers)

Mack’s ability to sack the quarterback in the second half aided a potentially vulnerable defense. He recorded all five sacks in the final 30 minutes, which placed a vice grip on the Broncos passing attack.

In a postgame press conference, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak praised Mack for his versatility, which extends credit to defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. for moving him around: 

Jerry McDonald @Jerrymcd

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak on Khalil Mack: `He played on our left. He played on our right. He played everywhere.'

Denver’s rushing attack remained listless throughout the contest, which allowed Mack to attack the pocket vigorously, staggering the Broncos' offensive rhythm in the second half.

Silver Lining: Passing Offense Struggles, Shines in Critical Moments

The Raiders finished the first half with minus-12 yards on offense, per Dubow

Josh Dubow @JoshDubowAP

Since started being tracked in 1991, the -12 yards for the #Raiders are fewest ever in any half per STATS

The Broncos pass defense suffocated the Raiders passing attack for most of the contest. Rookie wideout Amari Cooper failed to record a catch and Michael Crabtree caught four passes for 19 yards.

In the second half, the coaching staff made a significant adjustment, heavily integrating tight ends into the passing offense.

Both Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera made huge 20-plus yard catches to poke holes in Denver’s secondary. The after-effects afforded wideout Seth Roberts some space on quarterback Derek Carr's first touchdown pass:

NFL @NFL

**CRAZY TD CATCH ALERT** Some how, some way, Seth Roberts times his slide PERFECTLY to make this TD catch #OAKvsDEN https://t.co/5n4MD4BRBJ

In the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave designed a fake screen pass to Cooper, which froze the defensive backs and allowed Rivera to break free for an easy touchdown:

NFL @NFL

3rd & 15? Derek Carr's got this. #Touchdown. #OAKvsDEN https://t.co/eYyJ1kEn32

After a bland stretch in the first half, Musgrave’s adjustments created opportunities in the red zone against a solid perimeter defense. On offense, Oakland excelled where Denver sputtered—in tight spaces inside the 20-yard line.

Black Cloud: Sebastian Janikowski’s Struggles Continue

Ironically, Oakland’s Week 5 matchup against Denver presented the first glimpse of kicker Sebastian Janikowski’s struggles. He missed a 40-yard attempt, and the Broncos blocked a 38-yard attempt.

In a Week 13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Janikowski missed a critical 49-yard attempt. On Sunday, he left more points on the field:

OAKLAND RAIDERS @RAIDERS

The 43-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski is no good. It remains 15-12 with 5:07 left in the fourth quarter. #OAKvsDEN

Currently, Janikowski lists as a 76 percent kicker with a career average of 80 percent. There's concern about his inaccuracies when considering the new PAT rules that pushed the extra point back to 33 yards out.

The Raiders have a very slight chance of making the playoffs, but increased expectations for next season could force the front office to examine the field-goal unit.

Can the Raiders trust Janikowski to nail a 40-plus-yard field goal in a pivotal season matchup or a playoff game? Right now, the majority would say no.

Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for news, updates and intriguing discussion about the Oakland Raiders.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus and Team Rankings, unless otherwise noted.

Raiders Week 14 play-by-play provided by NFL.com.

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