Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
After throwing yet another touchdown on a play that worked exactly as it was drawn up, Peyton Manning ran to the end zone and head-butted the lucky receiver, running back Lance Ball.
That was about as rough as things got for Manning on Sunday – an afternoon he spent piling on in the second half instead of catching up.
Off to a fast start for the first time as a Bronco, Manning led Denver to three third-quarter touchdowns in a 37-6 rout over the Oakland Raiders – the first time Denver has beaten its AFC West rival at home since 2007.
Denver (2-2) outscored the Raiders 27-0 in the second half.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” coach John Fox said. “Let’s not forget he didn’t play for over a year and this is a new team, new coaching staff, new city, new field, new everything for him. The type of guy he is, he’s going to get better and better.”
Picking and poking with short crossing routes and screen passes against a depleted Oakland defense, Manning finished with 338 yards and three scores. For the second consecutive game, he didn’t throw an interception. Last week, he set a career high with 26 incompletions. This week, he threw eight, with 30 completions.
Willis McGahee finished with 112 yards rushing for the Broncos for his 32nd career 100-yard game, the most of any active player. Demaryius Thomas had 103 yards receiving. This marked the first time the Broncos have had a 300-yard passer and 100-yard rusher and receiver since opening day in 2007.
The Broncos didn’t punt – only the fifth time that’s happened in franchise history.
“Nothing magic I could share with you,” Manning said, when asked about Denver’s quick start to the second half.
The Broncos started the first half quickly, too.
Manning led them to their first opening-quarter touchdown of the season – an 11-play, 80-yard drive on the game’s first possession that included drive-sustaining completions on third-and-6 and fourth-and-1. He capped it with a 22-yard touchdown pass – zipped high through triple coverage to Joel Dreessen, who snatched it on the dead run.
Shortly after that, Manning answered a lot of questions about his arm strength, rolling to his right, stopping on a dime, leaving his feet and throwing across his body for a 23-yard completion to Thomas. That set up a field goal and a 10-3 lead.
The Broncos gained 101 more yards than the Raiders (1-3) in the first half, but only led 10-6 going into the locker room, thanks in part to a Thomas fumble after a 40-yard reception and kicker Matt Prater’s misfire on a pass to left guard Zane Beadles on a fake field goal.
“Maybe give Manning-Stokley a chance before Prater-Beadles,” Manning said jokingly.
Easy to laugh about given how the second half went.
Manning drove the Broncos 79 and 63 yards for third-quarter touchdowns, capping one drive with a short pass that Eric Decker took in for a 17-yard touchdown and the other with a similar 14-yard connection with Ball, which brought Manning into the end zone for the celebration. There was also an 18-yard drive thanks to David Bruton’s deflection of Shane Lechler’s punt.
By the time the third quarter was over, the Broncos led 31-6. Their 21 points were 14 more than they’d scored in the third quarters of their first three games combined.
Yes, these Broncos looked much different than the Broncos who fell behind by 20 the last two weeks to Atlanta and Houston, then rallied late but came away with six-point losses.
“Yeah, it’s clicking,” McGahee said. “We lost to two great teams. It wasn’t like it was an easy walk we were supposed to breeze through.”
The Raiders have been outscored 55-7 in the third quarter this season. Under new coach Dennis Allen – Denver’s defensive coordinator last year – they have allowed more points over the first four games (125) than in any year except 1961 and 1962, before the late Al Davis took over. This was their most lopsided loss in the series since a 44-7 defeat in 1962.
“It was nothing more than a good, old-fashioned butt-whupping,” said quarterback Carson Palmer, who finished with 202 yards passing.
The Broncos, who had allowed Darren McFadden 508 yards and three touchdowns over the last four meetings, held him to 34 yards on 13 carries.
“He has been outstanding on this field, and we knew going in that we had to contain him,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said.
Oakland came in without injured starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, which has forced a number of changes – none of them for the better.
“It’s hard to play against Peyton Manning no matter what,” Allen said. “He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback, and there’s a reason he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. But we’ve got the guys that we have, and that’s who we’ve got to go out and play with, and we’ve got to play at an NFL level.”
Manning, who padded his record total of 300-yard passing games to 65, looked like the Manning of old – standing at the line, diagnosing a defense, then choosing, in most cases, to throw quick screens or crossing routes.
Decker had seven catches for 79; Manning spread his 30 completions to eight receivers.
The referees were no factor. They called nine penalties, five for 41 yards against the newly disciplined Raiders, who came into the game near the bottom of the league in that category and will stay there.
The Broncos, meanwhile, had amassed around $150,000 in fines over the first three weeks and, though there weren’t any obviously finable infractions in this one, they played like bullies, outgaining the Raiders 503-237. Oakland didn’t get its first first down of the second half until the 12:45 mark of the fourth quarter.