Raiders head to Mile High for regular season finale

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

Follow Joe on twitter @JLHB510

OAKLAND — After dispatching the visiting Buffalo Bills 26-24 at O.co Coliseum in Week 16 behind two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Derek Carr and four field goals from Sebastian Janikowski and extending the Bills playoff drought to 15 years, the Raiders travel to Denver Sunday to take on the AFC West champion Broncos in both team’s regular season finale.

Oakland (3-12) dominated the time of possession over the Bills (8-7), 33:47 to 26:13, and rushing yards, 140 to 13.

After starting the season 0-10, the Raiders are 3-2 in their last five games with victories over Kansas City, San Francisco, and now, Buffalo.

“I can’t say enough good things about this team,” interim coach Tony Sparano said. “I love the guys in that locker room. They’re fighters. Anytime somebody counts them out, they bounce back. It’s a great sign of character.”

Defensively, Oakland got key contributions from middle linebacker Miles Burris, who recorded a team-high nine tackles (4 solo) and cornerback D.J. Hayden, who had six tackles.

With Oakland trailing Buffalo, 7-0 in the second quarter behind Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ 42-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and Buffalo driving into Oakland’s territory, veteran safety Charles Woodson out-muscled Bills tight end Scott Chandler for the ball to record his 60th career interception. Woodson’s interception, proved to be the play that provided Oakland with the momentum to carry them through the rest of the game.

“This team has never really gotten down to the point where we were ready to give up,” safety Woodson said. “It’s always been an upbeat attitude with the guys on the team, and it shows out there each week.”

There is no doubt that Woodson has played at high level this year at age 38, leading the team in tackles (106) and interceptions (4), to go along with eight pass defensed and a sack.

Woodson, along with rookie linebacker Khalil Mack (tied for the team lead with four sacks), were named as alternates in the upcoming Pro Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack rates as the the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL.

Fullback Marcel Reece was named a starter for the Pro Bowl, his third overall.

Denver is coming off gut-punching 37-28 loss in Cincinnati before a national televised audience where quarterback Peyton Manning threw a season-high four interceptions.

“I shouldn’t have thrown it,” said Manning, who was 28 of 44 for 311 yards with two touchdowns. “Four interceptions, you’re not going to beat many good football teams.”

With the loss, Denver (11-4) are locked in as the No. 2 seed as New England wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. Denver also failed to clinch a first-round bye.

 Players to Watch

Oakland, QB, Derek Carr

There is no doubt that Carr is the Raiders’ quarterback of the future, and his play has definitely gotten better as the season gone on. Carr leads all rookie quarterbacks in passing yards (3,112) and touchdown passes (20). If it weren’t for Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill (199 carries, 1,024 rushing yards, 9 TDs) and New York Giants’ rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (79 catches, 1,120 receiving yards, 11 TDs) Carr would be walking away with the NFL Rookie of the Year award.

Denver, QB, Peyton Manning

Manning appeared mortal against Cincinnati with his season-high four interceptions, prompting many pundits to question whether Manning was injured. The Bengals was up in the future Hall of Famer’s grill, confusing Manning with an array of pressuring blitzes and knocking him down throughout the game. Rarely does Manning play poorly in back-to-back weeks and with the playoffs just one week away, one will expect Manning to have a bounce back performance. In Denver’s 41-17 demolishing over Oakland in Week 10, Manning threw for 340 and five touchdowns.