What killed the Raider offense?
Was it fumbles, dropped passes, missed blocks, unfortunate play selection, good Bronco defense, bad luck, swirling winds or high grass? Was the moon in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars?
Or was it Marc Wilson?
Whichever, he was in charge Sunday when the Raider offense adopted a familiar posture--belly up--at a time you couldn't really call opportune. With the Broncos in and the Coliseum sold out, Wilson threw four interceptions and the Raiders lost, 21-10, before 90,153.
The season series has now been swept for nine straight seasons. The Raiders knocked Denver clean out of the playoffs last year but the Broncos took a big step toward returning the favor. They have a three-game lead with seven left, so the AFC West is pretty well accounted for. The Raiders are looking at a wild-card berth or nothing.
And they're looking up at that, too.
"It's imperative that the last seven games are victorious for the silver and black," said Raider spokesperson Lester Hayes. "Or we'll be home in December."
In that case, they've got their work cut out for them. Next week, they're in Dallas. Farther down the road is the trip to Seattle.
And what did Hayes think of the focal point of the Raider offense?
"Oh, don't talk about those guys," said Hayes. "Zip my mouth.
"I've always said, if we score 17 points, that gives us a fighting chance to win. We didn't do it today. And that's the name of that tune."
Call it "The Silver and Black Attack(?), 1986."
How much of the responsibility is Wilson's? His teammates, to a man, defended him. Perhaps they were being sincere. Since some of them have made known their displeasure in past seasons, perhaps it was diplomacy. Perhaps Tom Flores has promised to fine the first rock-thrower back to the Depression.
How much responsibility, indeed? Wilson is playing better than last season. Sunday he did throw for 326 yards. And two of his interceptions came in the last two minutes, with the Raiders airing it out, including the one Mike Harden returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
But that still leaves the two interceptions Wilson threw in the first half, plus the center snap he fumbled away that ended another drive at the Denver 26. Wilson may be less to blame for the four sacks he took. Jim Plunkett, whom the crowd spent the day chanting for, has been down a few times, himself.
But Wilson still looks tentative often. Could he have thrown the ball away, or picked up the hot receiver better? Only the Raider coaches know and they won't tell. To this point, their feeling has been that he's the best they've got.
"The only time (they considered changing quarterbacks) was when Marc twisted his knee in the first half," Flores said. "We were concerned whether that would bother him. It didn't seem to be bothering him."
Would Wilson start in Dallas?
"Yeah," Flores said. "I don't see any reason to change.
"Sure you can--there are always a lot of things a quarterback gets blamed for. A lot of them are his responsibility. And some of them aren't.
"It's his job to move the team. It's his job and our job to get in the end zone. We didn't get it done, today."
Bad omission. Would you believe the Raiders dominated this game? Not quite, but they came closer to it than the Broncos did.
The Raiders ran 28 of the game's first 35 plays. They drove into Denver territory on their first four possessions--and got one field goal out of it. They got only one field-goal attempt out of it. The others ended on a fumble by Marcus Allen, the fumbled center snap by Wilson and the interception Wilson threw to Dennis Smith.
In all, the Raiders out-gained the Broncos, 407-246, and held the ball 33 minutes and 2 seconds to Denver's 26:58. But they got most of the yardage zooming up and down between the 20-yard lines. When the going got tough, the Broncos took the ball away from them.
Someone had to score a touchdown, but it took awhile. The Raider defense didn't have Howie Long or Mike Haynes, but it still held the Broncos without a first down until only 7:00 remained in the first half.
Having attained this landmark on two six-yard runs by Sammy Winder, the Broncos soon found themselves in a familiar fix--third and six at their 36. This time John Elway hit Mark Jackson running a deep pattern against Hayes for a 53-yard gain. Hayes caught up with the play but Jackson out-jumped him for the ball.
"I was in man-to-man coverage," Hayes said. "John Roger Clemens Elway threw me a forkball of stupendous magnitude. It was unbelievable. I was in very good position."
Moments later, the Broncos had the ball at the Raider eight, third and seven. Anyone who had seen the recent meetings knew something weird was coming. A Statue of Liberty? A double reverse and a pitch back to Elway, who hits a tackle eligible? The Nebraska play where the center leaves the ball for a guard who picks it up and runs it?
Remember the game in Denver where halfback Steve Sewell fakes a sweep to the right, turns and throws back left to Elway, who scores?