Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Broncos were supposed to be at a major disadvantage Monday night in the season opener at Oakland without Marshall, who was serving a one-game NFL suspension for violating the personal conduct code.
Marshall, who last year became the third second-year player in NFL history to register at least 100 catches (he caught 102 balls), is developing into a first-rate NFL star. He and fellow third-year player, quarterback Jay Cutler, are supposed to grow old with each other. His absence was expected to hamper Denver's chances against the new-look Raiders, who were expected to have one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL.
So what did the Marshall-less Broncos do?
They rolled and introduced another weapon to the world in the form of rookie receiver Eddie Royal in the process.
"Yeah, it's a good sign, isn't it," Denver tight end Nate Jackson said. "We scored 41 points without our star receiver. That was nice to see. We get him back next week and it will be fun to see what we can do at full speed."
They will see next week against visiting San Diego. If the Broncos can continue their offensive explosion, they could take a two-game lead over San Diego, which was expected to run away with yet another AFC West title. However, San Diego was stunned on the final play of its game on Sunday, losing at home to Carolina. After watching San Diego stumble, the Broncos roared into first place in the AFC West with their decisive win over Oakland.
While Marshall sat in Colorado and watched his teammates, he saw the emergence of another Denver receiver in Royal, the team's second-round pick from Virginia Tech. Royal, who broke through as a surprise starter during training camp -- he was drafted to be a punt returner initially -- had nine catches for 146 yards. He had a 26-yard touchdown reception on Denver's first drive. Royal had another touchdown called back on penalties.
Royal's nine catches were the most in Denver history by a rookie in his NFL debut. Royal leads all NFL receivers in yardage after Week 1.
Royal picked apart Raiders right cornerback DeAngelo Hall, whom Cutler clearly was targeting. Hall was frustrated all night and he committed two personal fouls. Royal made the Pro Bowler Hall look like a rookie.
Several of Royal's teammates called him "special." They can't wait to see him pair with Marshall next week.
"We're going to be dangerous," said Denver's efficient No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley. "We have some guys who can play. When we get Brandon back, we'll even be better. We took playing without Brandon as a challenge. I think we stepped up."
Cutler certainly did. He did nothing to make NFL observers think he won't be a breakout star. Entering his second full season as a starter, Cutler was brilliant Monday night. He was 16-of-24 for 299 yards and two TDs. Cutler was not sacked and did not throw an interception, following two trends he set in the preseason.
"We know how powerful this offense can be," Stokley said. "It is going to be an interesting season."
What was most impressive about Denver's offense was its strength in the red zone and its refusal to let up after building a big lead. Those were two problems that plagued Denver as it compiled a 16-16 record the past two seasons. Denver scored touchdowns in three of four trips to the red zone and scored 24 of its points in the second half against the shell-shocked Raiders.
"The problems were in the past," Jackson said. "We didn't have any problems tonight."
And that was without Marshall. No problems indeed.