Latavius Murray reaches over the goal line for a touchdown in the second quarter. (Aleah Fajardo/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Ground game, defense carry Raiders past Broncos and into first place

OAKLAND — With the Oakland Raiders facing the stingiest pass defense in the NFL, the Derek Carr MVP tour took a hiatus during the team’s AFC West showdown against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.

Thanks to Oakland’s crew of running backs and the team’s ever-improving defense, the Raiders topped the Broncos 30-20 at the Coliseum and moved into sole possession of first place in the West.

“I’m really proud of our performance in primetime tonight,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after the Raiders improved to 7-2. “I thought our team played very well in all three phases throughout the evening. [It was] not perfect by a long stretch, but we had a good, solid physical effort.”

On a night when Carr threw for a season low of 184 yards, the Raiders leaned heavily on their offensive line and the running backs who rumbled out of the backfield. Carr also had a season low 31 pass attempts — not that he cared.

“You guys know me. I don’t get caught up in numbers. I don’t get caught up in stats,” Carr said. “I care about winning.

“A game like that, I don’t care if we run it 58 times or if I throw the ball eight times. When you get called on upon, you have to hit your shots. But when you run the ball like that, it’s just fun to watch.”

No running back had a bigger night than Latavius Murray, who went for 114 yards and found the end zone on three occasions. With that performance, Murray became the first running back since 2010 to rush for three scores against the Broncos.

“We knew we had to run the ball to go out there and be successful,” Murray said. “And we were able to do that really well — not just me [but] the other backs too.”

As a team, the Raiders went for 218 yards on the ground. Of Murray’s three touchdowns, he punched in two of them from the one-yard line.

“I got me some cheap ones there,” Murray joked. “But they felt really good. Anytime you get in the end zone, I’m not going to complain whatsoever.

While the Raiders’ stable of running backs picked up the offense, the defense turned its most impressive showing of the season.

“We’ve got good people who are learning to trust each other more and more,” Del Rio said. “We should continue to grow. It’s gotten a lot better, but honestly it still has a ways to go in my opinion. And it will get better.”

Oakland’s defensive unit swarmed Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian from the first whistle, forcing five three-and-outs by the Denver offense in the first half.

The biggest play of the second half came courtesy of Khalil Mack with just over seven minutes to go in the game.  Mack hammered Siemian for a strip sack and then recovered the fumble. On the night, the defensive end recorded a pair of sacks and now has five in the last four games.

“Khalil is a top five pick for a reason. He’s the franchise for a reason,” Carr said. “He’ll get mad at me for saying that, we fight about that. He made a big play for us.”

The defense also received a couple of assists from punter Marquette King, who pinned the Broncos inside their own two-yard line on a pair of second-half punts.

“I mean, this is what I do,” King said. “I practice hard every day, I got the best special teams coach in the league. One of the best long-snappers to make my job easy and I mean this is something I got to do.”

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