Peyton Manning was 32 of 37 for 374 yards and three TDs. “I don’t even know too many people who can do that in Madden,” Denver’s Ronnie Hillman says.
DENVER — Peyton Manning slapped his hands together five, six, seven times and barked out the signals. A few seconds later, Wes Welker was all alone, cradling the quarterback’s latest touchdown pass.
All part of another impeccably crafted victory for Manning and the Denver Broncos, who rolled over the Oakland Raiders 37-21 Monday night. Denver’s 127 points lead the league and are 31 more than second-place Green Bay.
It was Denver’s 14th straight regular-season win, tying the franchise record set in 1998 when the Broncos won their second Super Bowl.
Manning went 32 of 37 for 374 yards and three touchdowns to put his name in the record books a few more times while outwitting the overmatched Raiders (1-2).
“You see flashes of good things,” Manning said. “When we’re executing and not making mistakes, we can go the distance. We can go 80 yards, take advantage of a short field.”
Manning’s 12 TD passes are one more than Tom Brady’s old record for the first three games, set in 2011. Manning still has yet to throw an interception, which matches a record held by Michael Vick, who also threw 12 touchdowns before his first pick in 2010.
“We get to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks and football players to ever play the game,” said tight end Julius Thomas, who caught one of the TDs.
As much as the numbers, it was Manning’s deciphering of the Oakland defense that made jaws drop. His first TD, a 2-yard pass to Eric Decker (eight catches, 133 yards), came after a subtle play-action fake that froze the defense and left Decker uncovered in the back of the end zone.
Manning’s targets for the next two scores — Welker and Thomas — didn’t have defenders within three steps of them when they caught the passes. Wide open. A sure sign that Manning had diagnosed the defense he was looking at well before the snap and knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball.
“You see what he can do. I don’t even know too many people who can do that in Madden,” running back Ronnie Hillman said, referring to the video game. “It’s pretty cool to have a quarterback like that.”
OK, so the evening wasn’t perfect. The Broncos (3-0) settled for three field goals and had to punt once. Rookie Montee Ball lost another fumble. And Manning’s prediction that Chris Clark would be a seamless replacement for injured Ryan Clady as his blindside protector didn’t exactly pan out. Lamarr Houston beat Denver’s new starting left tackle badly in the third quarter for a sack and strip that halted a drive that had reached the Raiders 13.
But Denver was ahead 30-7 at that point.
But that seems like quibbling. The record for touchdown passes in a season is 50, set by Brady in 2007. If he keeps up this pace, Manning will throw 64.
“Any inch of mistake that he sees, he’s going to put the ball there and find that hole,” Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins said.
Since Manning arrived, the Broncos have outscored the Raiders 100-40 in three runaway wins.
Oakland cut the deficit to 17-7 in the second quarter after Terrelle Pryor (19 for 28 for 281 yards) hit Denarius Moore in the middle of the field for a 73-yard TD.
All of which simply gave Manning the ball back more quickly. On the next play, he hit Decker, who spun away from his defender for a 61-yard gain. Three plays later, the Broncos were up 17 again after Manning found Thomas on an out route for a 13-yard score.
Pryor left the game late with a concussion.