In what could be the Raiders’ final game in Oakland, the side gave the home fans plenty to cheer after cruising to a 17-0 lead at half time.
Dwayne Harris deserves a lot of credit for the opener as he returned a Colby Wadman punt 99 yards for the score, but Denver could – and should – have downed the ball at the one-yard line.
The lead became 14 midway through the second quarter, when the Broncos did not pick up Doug Martin who rushed into the end zone from 24 yards.
The Broncos got on the board late in the third – as Case Keenum found DaeSean Hamilton, but a Jalen Richard rushing touchdown made the game 24-7 in the fourth.
Courtland Sutton connected with Keenum to keep the game alive, but Marcus Gilchrist picked the Denver quarterback off with 5:36 left in the encounter to seal the win.
The Los Angeles Chargers secured a place in the NFL playoffs with a dramatic 29-28 comeback victory over division rivals the Kansas City Chiefs.
The side erased a 14-point deficit in the final five minutes, Mike Williams scoring on a touchdown with four seconds remaining to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 28-27.
Coach Anthony Lynn opted to go for the win, and quarterback Philip Rivers connected with Williams on the game-winning two-point conversion.
The victory means the Chiefs and the Chargers are now tied at the top of the AFC, on 11-3 for the season.
It also ended Los Angeles’ nine-game losing streak to their long-time opponents.
Rivers threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams had three touchdowns.
On the face of it, Green Bay have just got rid of a man who has led the team to the second most wins in Packers’ history – Mike McCarthy has more wins in Wisconsin than even the late, great Vince Lombardi.
But, in the cold light of day, the Packers are staring at the very real prospect of a second-straight year without featuring in the postseason, while for all those wins, one of the most consistent and talented teams in the NFL over the last decade has only lifted one Lombardi Trophy during McCarthy’s 13-year reign.
When you factor in he’s had who many consider the greatest quarterback in the league over that same period as his focal point, the decision from Packers’ CEO Mark Murphy seems more sensible than savage.
And, ultimately, Murphy has probably made the decision with the future of Aaron Rodgers at the forefront of his thinking.
In sporting terms the stud gunslinger is in his twilight, having turned 35 on Sunday, the same day his long-time coach was dismissed. But in NFL terms the California native is still relatively young – six of his contemporaries are older.
And with Tom Brady still leading the New England Patriots to Super Bowls at 41 and Drew Brees still breaking records at breakneck speed with the New Orleans Saints, you have to believe there’s plenty of time for Rodgers to earn himself that second Super Bowl ring.
Former Packers tight end Mark Chmura criticised Rodgers for his part in McCarthy’s firing, calling the veteran a “prima donna”.
No12 has been vocally critical of his team’s play-calling this season and is described by some as being so smart that he’s difficult to coach.
But why shouldn’t the coaching be criticised? After all, it’s hard to defend their 4-7-1 record this season. It is the joint ninth worst record in the league – with two of those victories coming against the wretched 2-9 San Francisco 49ers and the perennially mediocre Buffalo Bills (4-8).
The last straw was Sunday’s 20-17 defeat to the awful Arizona Cardinals, whose win moved them onto 3-9.
When assessing the bigger picture, that record is likely to see them miss out on the postseason for a second year in succession, which has never happened previously under McCarthy – who prior to 2017 led his side into the playoffs eight seasons in a row.
They never reached the Super Bowl after that exhilarating 31-25 2010 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but were always at the forefront. A year later they posted their best regular season record under McCarthy of 15-1, but lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the New York Giants – although Tom Coughlin’s team did go on to win the Super Bowl.
In 2014 and 2016 they were thwarted in the NFC Championship game by the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons – both of whom found Father Time too much to handle in the finale as Brady led the Patriots to his and their fourth and fifth titles.
Another factor that points to a parting of ways being the correct decision is how strong the NFC has become in recent years.
The Philadelphia Eagles last year broke a three-year stranglehold AFC teams (essentially the Patriots) had held on the Lombardi – four of the last six winners have come from the American Football Conference.
But the AFC’s dominance has been built largely on New England and the ageless Brady – who has led his team into four of the last seven Super Bowls.
The NFC, meanwhile, is hyper competitive this year, with the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams the best team in the league and both they and the Saints among the top three scoring teams, just behind the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Seahawks are all jostling for playoff position too and boast powerful line-ups.
Meanwhile, in a loaded conference, the once-leading Pack are falling behind into the chasing pack – which is simply unacceptable when you have a QB as good as Rodgers under centre.
Of course McCarthy’s feats at Lambeau Field shouldn’t be forgotten. Regardless of the sole Super Bowl triumph, he will go down as one of the most successful coaches in franchise history – leading the Pack into the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons.
Only Green Bay founder Earl ‘Curly’ Lambeau won more games in charge (231) than McCarthy – and largely because he was head coach for 30 years.
The Packers won six NFL Championships under Lambeau from 1929-44 before the influential Lombardi kick-started the Super Bowl era with two more NFL Championships and three Super Bowls – including the first two in ’66 and ’67.
“The goal is to get the very best coach to get the Packers back to playing championship football."https://t.co/fTdOHiGspq— Green Bay Packers (@packers) 3 December 2018
The man considered the greatest coach in American football history orchestrated the modern NFL era although it would be 30 years before the Packers would win a fourth title in 1997 thanks to the arm of Hall of Famer Brett Favre and coach Mike Holmgren.
They are now joint third for most Super Bowl wins alongside the Giants, courtesy of McCarthy and Rodgers’ 2010 exploits.
But ultimately, at the top level of sport there is rarely any room for sentiment. The NFL is a particularly cruel environment, you either sink or swim.
The ‘Lambeau Leap’ is a well-used phrase coined by fans and commentators – touchdowns in Green Bay are often celebrated by the scorer jumping up into the arms of the vociferous Wisconsin crowd.
Murphy has taken a leap by letting go of McCarthy. Now he must find the right replacement and hope he and Rodgers can launch the Packers back into the arms of the NFL’s elite.