The Raiders had high hopes. They were coming off their first win of the season and the Broncos were coming off their first loss. And for a quarter, the Raiders were able to keep hoping, but Denver scored three touchdowns in quick succession in the second quarter and coasted from there to a comfortable 31-14 win.
The Raiders actually bested the Broncos in total yards, but they turned the ball over five times, including three times in the decisive second quarter, and that was the difference.
It was a great day for football. Winter can sometimes come early to Denver, but on this day the temperatures were in the mid-60s, with just the breath of a breeze, and neither rain nor snow to be seen. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was that this was the 2-1 Broncos’ first home game in either the preseason or the regular season. A decent crowd of 18,372 filled Bears Stadium to a little over half-capacity as the Broncos prepared to receive the opening kickoff.
The Denver offense put together a pair of extended drives in the first quarter, but both times the Raider defense stopped them short of the goal, forcing field goal attempts by Gene Mingo, who made one of the two. Meanwhile the Raider offense, led by Tom Flores, got into the end zone on their first try. JD Smith’s one-yard plunge put the team ahead, 7-3, which is how the period ended.
Early in the second, the Broncos reached the end zone for the first time, in honest fashion, going 72 yards in seven plays, culminating in a 12-yard pass from Frank Tripucka to Lionel Taylor. Then things became a little unhinged. Following a 16-yard scramble by Flores, Babe Parilli came in to play quarterback and several plays later threw an interception to Al Romine, who brought it back 18 yards to the Denver 44. After a couple of good runs and an Oakland personal foul penalty, Tripucka called a screen pass to Taylor, who took it in from the 20 for his second score in under six minutes. Flores came back in for the next drive, but promptly threw a swing pass that was intercepted by defensive end Bill Yelverton who also scored from the 20. The remainder of the quarter passed by without further fireworks and the only event of interest came when Parilli replaced Flores again following another long scramble.
Down 24-7, the Raiders took the second-half kickoff and drove to the Denver 20, but a strip-sack ended with Denver defensive tackle Don King in possession of the ball, snuffing out the drive. The Oakland defense forced a three-and-out, leading to the Raiders’ last bright moment of the day. Flores, who had returned to start the half, took his team 60 yards in eight plays. Billy Lott ended the drive by plowing into the end zone behind Don Manoukian from the two. Tom Louderback intercepted for Oakland two plays later, but Tony Teresa fumbled it right back to the Broncos, and shortly thereafter fullback Dave Rolle eluded six Raider defenders on a 57-yard rumble down the sideline to score and put the game away.
The fourth quarter was helmed by backups on both sides. Eddie Erdelatz put Parilli back in for good, while Denver coach Frank Filchock gave Tripucka the rest of the afternoon off, replacing him with George Herring. The only threat by either team came when the Broncos drove to the Oakland 11, but Mingo missed for the second time on a field goal attempt and that was that.
If Erdelatz wasn’t his usual ebullient self, he didn’t seem angry or discouraged either. “We moved the ball enough to win and our defense actually played well enough, but the errors killed us,” he said, “Overall, I don’t think we played up to our potential, but we outgained them, our team first-downed them and held them to one touchdown in the second half. Unfortunately, fumbles and interceptions are part of the game, so it was just one of those things.”
Filchock hardly seemed happier. “It’s always satisfying to win,” he said, “but we were not as good as we were in the last three games. I thought we were dead and just going through the motions before the game, and really thought we would lose this opener. Then it turned out not bad.”
On the Raiders side of the ledger, it was an interesting day for Tom Flores. He did give up an interception and lost a fumble, but he also completed 12 of 16 passes for 137 yards, and to cap it off, he was the team’s leading rusher, getting 76 yards on three scrambles. The breakout player, though, was tight end Gene Prebola, who gained 98 yards on six catches, all for first downs.
For Denver it was Lionel Taylor leading the way, gaining 109 yards on seven catches to go along with his two touchdowns. Tripucka completed 9 of 19 passes for 129 yards and two scores, but also added a pair of interceptions, one each to Louderback and Wayne Crow. On the ground, Rolle led the way, with 100 yards on ten carries, earning the bulk of the yardage on his big run in the third.
With two-thirds of their road trip behind them, the Raiders, at 1-3, were now off to Dallas to play the 2-2 Texans, 37-35 losers to the Titans, before finally returning home. The Broncos, now at 3-1, would get a week off before playing the 2-2 Chargers in the second of five consecutive home contests before hitting the highway once again.
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Hayward Daily Review
Official AFL gamebook
San Mateo Times