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Sunday Night wrap-up: Raiders go old school, and could get better

Latavius Murray rushed for over 100 yards and three touchdowns as the Raiders beat the Broncos, 30-20, to take first place in the AFC West.

The Raiders don’t have a commitment to a hometown, so it’s hard to declare a return to the days of Commitment to Excellence.

But there were already signs that they were a legitimate challenger in the conference prior to Sunday, and there were more of them after they handled the Broncos, with a 30-20 win improving them to 7-2 and moving them into the top spot in AFC West.

The Raiders play an effective, back-to-basics style of offense, have an opportunistic defense and are generally solid on special teams. That’s a stable foundation from which to build, and they can get even better in all three areas.

Watching Latavius Murray run (114 yards and three touchdowns) and Khalil Mack pressure quarterbacks (two sacks, a forced fumble and more) and Marquette King punt, and it’s tempting to declare a return to the glory days of Raiders football — which an increasing number of football fans weren’t alive to see.

But if you watch their offense carefully, you see opportunities for more big plays. As physical as they are up front and with Murray running, they ought to be able to pass downfield more. But Derek Carr averaged just 5.9 yards per pass attempt against the Broncos, a fairly pedestrian number and hardly in line with their image.

A defense that has been sufficient can also improve, particularly if Aldon Smith is reinstated after his suspension ends in another week. Putting a sack-a-game guy on the field or in rotation with Mack and Bruce Irvin would give them plenty of weapons on that side of the ball.

They could also stand a return to form from kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who hasn’t been as reliable lately as we’re accustomed to (including a pair of misses in overtime win over the Bucs).

But mostly, the Raiders have a bit of an edge about them again, with a 5-0 road record and a statement win against a division rival in front of their home fans. Whether they’re the home fans for long doesn’t change the fact that the Raiders are relevant again, and football is better for it.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian isn’t the kind of guy to win a game on his own. And he doesn’t have the kind of help he needs in the running game to be sustainable until he improves.

But he doesn’t lack for confidence.

The former seventh-rounder won the starting job this year when the easy choice would have been to go with a veteran (Mark Sanchez) or a first-round pick (Paxton Lynch). He did so, in part, because of the faith coach Gary Kubiak had in him.

It’s hard to quantify, but Siemian has shown the game hasn’t been too big for him, and if they can fix everything around him (like dropped passes and a running game), he has shown he can be enough of a quarterback to win with.

2. For all the things the Broncos might not have at the moment, they still have Von Miller, and that’s going to give them a chance in every game.

Miller reclaimed the league lead in sacks with one in the first half, giving him 9.5 on the season.

The Super Bowl MVP has continued to play at a high level beyond his payday, and his ability to rush the passer is going to keep them competitive against any team in the league.

3. Ordinarily, spending big money on a free agent guard isn’t the best business. Free agency’s an inflated market, and guard’s one of the spots you can find cheaper, serviceable options.

But bringing Kelechi Osemele in from Baltimore has given the Raiders more than just a big-ticket item (five years, $58.5 million). He’s given them some personality, and added to the physical nature of some of the blockers they already had.

When the Raiders were great, they had Hall of Famers on the offensive line. And while Osemele isn’t a household name, his addition has lent some ballast to their running game, and the kind of persona the Raiders once had and are building again. Along with center Rodney Hudson and left tackle Donald Penn, they’ve used their salary cap space well.

4. Speaking of free agency, C.J. Anderson should circle back and ask for more money.

The Broncos running back’s absence has been clear since he was placed on IR with a knee injury, as the Broncos haven’t been able to sustain anything on the ground. And when they can’t run, it keeps them from being the kind of offense they want to be, and makes it harder for Siemian to be successful.

Matching the four-year, $18 million offer sheet Anderson generated as a restricted free agent was a tough call, and the Broncos are holding out hope he can get back for the postseason after surgery to repair a meniscus injury.

5. King is very good at punting.

But the Raiders’ All-Pro punter is an even better dancer.

His horse-riding bit after a punt was downed at the Broncos’ 2-yard line in the third quarter was inspired, and thankfully didn’t draw a penalty.

It was fun, and it was organic — which are two things the NFL could use more of.