Suddenly, the Broncos are looking like a team with a pulse.
Eddie Royal’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown with under six minutes to play helped the Broncos rally past the dazed and confused Raiders, 38-24, in an AFC West affair.
Royal also caught two passes for 25 yards and a score for the Broncos (3-5), who have won two of three. Willis McGahee, who missed last week’s 45-10 loss to the Lions with a broken hand, carried the ball 20 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Tim Tebow completed 10-of-21 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The Florida product also carried the ball 12 times for 117 yards.
“Honestly it doesn’t necessarily matter too much how you drew it up as long as you get this feeling at the end, because it was pretty special,” Tebow said.
Carson Palmer, making his first start as a Raider, connected on 19-of-35 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions for Oakland (4-4), which has lost two in a row since a two-game winning streak.
Michael Bush carried the ball 19 times for 96 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards and a score. Jacoby Ford hauled in five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Raiders starting running back Darren McFadden missed the game with a right foot injury.
Down 24-14 midway through the third quarter, Denver started its comeback, as Demaryius Thomas’ 29-yard catch set up a 43-yard Matt Prater field goal with 2:52 left.
The final two plays of the third frame proved to be a big turning point in the game. Chris Harris recorded his first career interception and returned the ball 15 yards. On the next play, McGahee found a hole up the middle and sprinted 60 yards into the end zone to make it 24-24.
Oakland was forced to punt with 6:12 left in the fourth. Royal fielded the punt and sprinted 85 yards for the go-ahead score with 5:53 to play.
After forcing the Raiders to punt, Denver took over at its own 23 with 3:55 remaining. Tebow started the drive with a 28-yard run. McGahee ran for 17 and three yards before breaking off a 24-yard TD run to put the game away.
Denver’s Champ Bailey recorded his second interception of the day with one minute left.
“They looked like a team that had a lot of hunger in the second half,” Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said.
After each team went three-and-out to start the game, the Raiders took over at their own 27. Ford caught a 34-yard pass before fumbling, though Oakland recovered the ball at the Denver 33. Sebastian Janikowski, who missed Oakland’s last game with a hamstring injury, made a 48-yard field goal with 7:35 remaining.
The Broncos took the lead late in the first quarter. Tebow faked a handoff before sprinting 32 yards to the left. On 3rd-and-10 from the 27, Tebow found Eric Decker in the middle of the field for a score with 1:11 to go.
Oakland had great field position early in the second quarter. Denver was trying to punt the ball from its own 15, but punter Britton Colquitt fumbled the snap. Colquitt did manage to throw an incomplete pass. Faced with a 3rd- and-7, Palmer threw an 11-yard TD pass to Bush for a 10-7 edge with 10:42 left.
Bailey picked off Palmer on Oakland’s next possession. The Broncos took over at their own 15, but only moved the ball 19 yards before punting.
Ford’s 31-yard catch-and-run put the ball at the Denver 39. Faced with a 2nd- and-11, Palmer threw a perfect strike over the middle of the field to Marcel Reece for a 40-yard score. The extra point made it 17-7 with 1 1/2 minutes left until half.
Prater set up for a 53-yard field goal with 22 seconds left. A defensive offsides penalty moved the ball five yards closer for Prater, who was good from 48 yards out. The Raiders were called for roughing the kicker, and the Broncos decided to take the 15 yards instead of the three points. Following an incomplete pass and offensive holding call, Prater came on for a 43-yarder. The kick missed wide left.
The Broncos started the second half with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive. McGahee ran for three yards on 3rd-and-2 to give Denver a first down. A few plays later, Tebow found Royal wide open in the middle of the field for a 26- yard score.
Oakland responded with an 80-yard drive of its own. A defensive pass interference penalty put the ball at the 18. Palmer then found Ford in the end zone, and the wide receiver got two feet in before going out for an 18-yard score. The extra point gave the Raiders a 24-14 lead with 6:41 left.