Patriots

AFC: Broncos hold on for a 16-10 win over Raiders

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AFC: Broncos hold on for a 16-10 win over Raiders

DENVER - The Denver Broncos throttled running back Marshawn Lynch and sent quarterback Derek Carr to the sideline with a back injury, then sealed their 16-10 win over Oakland on Sunday on safety Justin Simmons' interception of EJ Manuel at the Denver 8 in the closing minutes.

Despite holding Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries, the Broncos found themselves in danger of frittering away an AFC West showdown they had dominated when Riley Dixon's punt traveled just 37 yards to the Oakland 42 with 4:16 remaining.

Trailing by six, Manuel heaved a high toss to Amari Cooper just after the 2-minute warning but Simmons, who won the job from three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward this summer, came down with the ball just shy of the goal line and took it out to 8. The Broncos ran out the clock to hit their bye week at 3-1.

Oakland (2-2) had cut its deficit to six on Giorgio Tavecchio's 38-yard field goal with 5:23 remaining.

That came after Brandon McManus hit the left upright from 29 yards out early in the fourth quarter after nailing kicks from 28, 36 and 46 yards.

Denver's only touchdown was a doozy, a one-handed grab of Trevor Siemian's 22-yard pass by tight end A.J. Derby.

The Raiders couldn't do much against Denver's fortified front seven that also stuffed Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Eliott and LeSean McCoy. They managed just 24 yards on 15 carries for a 1.6-yard rushing average.

Carr left the game in the third quarter with a back injury after he was sacked by Shelby Harris and was hit by Adam Gotsis as he twisted awkwardly. Coach Jack Del Rio said Carr suffered from back spasms.

Four plays later, the Broncos sniffed out a fake punt on fourth-and-11 from the Raiders 33 and wide receiver Jordan Taylor stuffed punter Marquette King, who was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing the football at fullback Andy Janovich as he got up.

The Broncos took over at the Oakland 15 but McManus missed from 29 yards out.

Carr (10 of 18 for 143 yards) was replaced by Manuel, who drove the Raiders 73 yards for Tavecchio's 38-yard field goal. Manuel finished 11 of 17 for 106 yards.

The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal by McManus and the one-handed touchdown grab by Derby, who led the Broncos with 75 yards on four catches.

Derby lined up from the fullback position and raced past rookie middle linebacker Marquel Lee, then reached with his right arm to snare the slightly overthrown pass from Siemian. He never broke stride - nor did he gather the ball with his other hand - on his last couple of steps into the end zone.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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