Ashley Lelie and the Oakland Raiders both got even with the Denver Broncos.
The deep-threat receiver who forced a trade out of Denver in 2006 after a bitter holdout returned to Invesco Field on Sunday and helped lead the Raiders to a stunning 31-10 win over the Broncos with his best game in years.
“I’ve been dreaming for this moment ever since I left here,” Lelie said after catching a touchdown pass and setting up another TD with a spectacular 51-yard catch. “It feels good that it was with the Raiders.”
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.
“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 refused to give in to Lelie’s contract demands and sent him to the Falcons after a protracted holdout that sparked an ugly grievance over fines.
“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 then with the Broncos, Falcons, 49ers or Raiders.
“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.”
Rookie Darren McFadden ran for two 1-yard touchdowns and the Raiders (3-8), who hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in 15 quarters, scored three TDs in an 18-play span to snap a four-game losing streak.
They also rectified their thrashing at the hands of the Broncos (6-5) in the opener. In that game, the Broncos repeatedly picked on since-released cornerback DeAngelo Hall, and they went after his replacement, Chris Johnson, with very little success Sunday.
Lelie’s long catch with Dre’ Bly in coverage set up McFadden’s first score, which broke a 10-10 tie in the third quarter and gave Oakland’s offense its first TD since Oct. 26 against 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.”
Lelie caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from JaMarcus Russell, then held his right hand to his ear to take in all the boos from the fans who once adored him.
“Yeah,” Lelie said. “Felt like cheers to me.”
McFadden capped the scoring with another 1-yard run following linebacker Thomas Howard’s interception of Jay Cutler’s pass at midfield.
The Raiders’ 31 points surpassed their season high of 23 and marked their biggest output since a 34-20 win over Denver last December.
“Their production was a huge lift because it helps them believe in themselves more,” Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said of Oakland’s offense. “And it helped us as a defense because we got a lot of rest.”
Raiders returner Johnnie Lee Higgins scored on a punt return for the second straight week, skittering 89 yards down the Broncos sideline, picking up blocks along the way, including one near the goal line by helmetless teammate Jon Alston. That gave Oakland a 10-3 halftime lead.
The Broncos, who lost a fumble near the Raiders’ goal line on their opening drive, appeared to right themselves when they took the second-half kickoff and covered 85 yards in 13 plays for the tying score, on Peyton Hillis’ 6-yard TD run.
Russell and Lelie hooked up for 51 yards on the first play of the next drive and it was all downhill for Denver from there.
“The only thing we won tonight was the penalty battle. They had more penalties than we did,” Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “Other than that, they kicked our butts in every phase of the game.”
Tatum Bell became Denver’s fifth starter at tailback this season. That’s the most in the Shanahan era. Bell is also the fourth TB to start for the Broncos in the past 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. … Broncos K Matt Prater missed two FGs and is 4-for-9 over the last month, prompting Shanahan to suggest he’s lost his confidence.