Lelie helps Raiders bowl over Broncos

DENVER — Ashlie Lelie couldn't wait to return to the city he couldn't wait to leave.

Lelie's inspired performance against his former team helped the Oakland Raiders snap out of their funk and beat the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos 31-10 Sunday.

Lelie helped Oakland's offense score three touchdowns in an 18-play span after going 15 quarters without seeing the end zone, and the Raiders (3-8) snapped a four-game losing streak by knocking off the archrival that humiliated them in the opener two months ago.

The Broncos (6-5) maintained their two-game lead over struggling San Diego in the NFL's worst division.

After Denver tied it at 10 on Peyton Hillis' 6-yard run late in the third quarter, Darren McFadden scored on 1-yard runs sandwiched around Lelie's 4-yard TD catch.

"I've been dreaming for this moment ever since I left here," said Lelie, who forced a trade to Atlanta after an ugly holdout in 2006.

Lelie, who caught a cosmetic touchdown in Oakland's season-opening 41-14 loss to Denver, languished in Atlanta, San Francisco and even Oakland before he returned to rock the Broncos with four catches for 92 yards, nearly doubling his season totals. He set up McFadden's first score with a 51-yard catch.

"Ever since I left, this is what I wanted to do — to come back to Invesco and show I've still got it," Lelie said. "Come back and kind of put it to the people who didn't think I was good enough."

At the top of that list was Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who made Lelie his top draft pick in 2002.

"When Ashley was here, he did the same thing, made those big plays," Shanahan said. "When the ball's thrown up in the air, Ashley's always come down with those plays. Didn't surprise me at all. Ashley's got excellent hands. For some reason it didn't work out at other places when he left here. But when he was here, he was pretty productive."

Lelie caught 54 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns during his best NFL season with Denver in 2004, but he hasn't come close to replicating those numbers since.

"Just not getting the opportunities," Lelie said. "When I did get an opportunity in San Fran, well, I didn't really get one. Here, they finally gave me the opportunity with Javon (Walker) getting a little nicked up and they put me on the field to give me a chance to do what I can do."

After rolling over the Raiders in the opener, the Broncos bumbled their way through the rematch, turning the ball over at the Oakland 7 on their first drive and missing two long field goals in the first half. They allowed Oakland to convert all seven of its third downs in the second half. The only time the Broncos stopped the Raiders on third down was when JaMarcus Russell took a knee in the final seconds.

Things started to fall apart for Denver when quarterback Jay Cutler goofed up on first-and-goal at the Oakland 7 on the Broncos' promising opening drive, which had covered 77 yards in 13 plays.

Cutler forgot it was a fake and turned to hand the ball to Hillis, but Terdell Sands bullied his way into the backfield and broke it up, sending the ball to the grass for safety Gibril Wilson to scoop up.

"That just kills the offense," Denver tight end Daniel Graham said. "We were moving the ball pretty well, and to give up the ball like that just kills the momentum."

Cutler took the blame, but Hillis, a rookie, said it was his responsibility.

"Jay has a lot on his plate," Hillis said. "I should have been there to take it and do the best I can with it."

Regardless of who was at fault, the Broncos never rediscovered that rhythm and they didn't reach the end zone until the third quarter.

"It definitely hurt us," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We're a fairly young team, and it's tough for us to get back in the game when we make mistakes like that early."

McFadden's first score broke a 10-10 tie in the third quarter and gave Oakland's offense its first TD since Oct. 26 at Baltimore.

"It was huge," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "You could even feel it on the sideline. It's something we've been thirsting for. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders. We just relaxed and played."

McFadden capped the scoring with another 1-yard run following linebacker Thomas Howard's interception of Cutler's pass at midfield.

Johnnie Lee Higgins scored on a punt return for the second straight week, skittering 89 yards down the Broncos sideline to give Oakland a 10-3 halftime lead.

"We can't afford to beat ourselves up, get down in spirits, because we're still at the top of our division," Broncos cornerback Dre' Bly said. "We still have a great chance to do great things if we finish strong."

Notes: Bell was the fourth TB to start for the Broncos in the last four games. ... Cutler tied John Elway (1987) for fastest QB in team history to 3,000 yards passing, but Cutler's 11-game TD streak was halted.

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