The Christmas spirit was in full effect Monday night at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, and Dwayne "Gucci" Harris channeled a little Christmas Eve magic, as he gave the Oakland Raiders an early lead, taking the Denver Broncos first punt of the evening a cool 99 yards to the house in what was the Silver and Black's first punt return for touchdown since 2008.
But, to call Harris' score – his first return touchdown since 2015 – just your run-of-the-mill punt return does a mighty disservice to the man.
After Colby Wadman got a generous bounce on his punt, the ball trickled towards the Raiders end zone, but after a failed attempt to down the ball inside the one-yard line by the Denver gunners, Harris picked up the ball, made a man miss, then ran down the right sideline 99 yards with his friends, en route to giving the Raiders an early 6-0 lead.
Following the excitement of that electric run though, the first quarter proved anticlimactic for both squads; the Raiders tallied just 12 total yards, and the Broncos also couldn't find their footing on the offensive side of the football either.
That said, in the second quarter, things opened up a little for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense, and after putting together a very-balanced drive against a tough Broncos defense, Doug Martin punctuated things nicely with a 24-yard touchdown where he was barely touched en route to scoring his fourth rushing score of 2018.
Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson – a guy who has quietly put together a stellar season since arriving in Northern California – added three more points in the final moments of the first half to give the Raiders a 17-point lead headed into the half, and truthfully, it was more than enough to take down the Broncos.
First off, credit to Paul Guenther; the Raiders defensive coordinator hasn't had the luxury of having consistent pieces playing for his group in 2018, but week in and week out – while the results may not have been there – Guenther's group played hard.
Well, the results were certainly there Monday night for the Raiders defense, even without the services of the team's primary base cornerbacks.
Gareon Conley was ruled out with a concussion Monday afternoon, and shortly after that, Daryl Worley was placed on the reserve/injured list, but in their stead, Nick Nelson and Rashaan Melvin entered the mix, and actually did a pretty solid job against the Broncos, limiting Keenum to a pedestrian 202 yards, and two interceptions.
Now, Keenum did get rolling a little bit in the third quarter, finding DaeSean Hamilton for a seven-yard touchdown to pull the Broncos within 10 points, and the Broncos found themselves down by just 10 halfway through the fourth quarter following a Courtland Sutton score, but it just wasn't enough to get the job done on Christmas Eve at the OACC.
Following a beautiful interception by Marcus Gilchrist, the Silver and Black added three more points to balloon their lead to 13 point and that was all the team needed to secure its fourth win of 2018.
Also, real quick, let's show a little love to the Raiders offensive line; with Kelechi Osemele back at left guard, the big guys up front did a quality job of giving Derek Carr time to work, and neither Von Miller or Bradley Chubb made a sizable impact on the primetime clash.
At game's end, Carr completed 19 of 26 passes for 167 yards, and while it may not have been his prettiest outing, he did enough to move the Raiders up and down the field.
Coach Gruden's squad – while I'm sure they'll enjoy a very merry Christmas as a result of tonight's effort – won't have much time to sit back and bask in their fourth victory of 2018, as they're now officially on the short week and will close out 2018 with a road matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
The team will fly out Friday afternoon.
Photos of the game action during the Raiders' Week 16 matchup with the Denver Broncos at the Coliseum.