Ben Margot/Associated Press
Ben Margot/Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. – Going on the road in a short week is a tough task for any NFL team.
Now the Denver Broncos get the reward for beating the division rival Oakland Raiders – three extra days of rest before their most important game remaining in the regular season.
Peyton Manning threw for 310 yards and had his 30th touchdown pass of the season on the game’s opening drive to help the Broncos roll to their eighth consecutive victory, 26-13 over the Raiders on Thursday night.
“These Thursday night games are tough, especially late in the year,” Manning said. “I know I’m tired.”
Knowshon Moreno ran for 119 yards and a score on a career-high 32 carries, and Matt Prater kicked four field goals to help the Broncos (10-3) move a half-game ahead of New England and Baltimore for the second-best record in the AFC.
Denver now gets the extra rest before visiting the Ravens next week in a game that will help decide who gets a first-round playoff bye.
“It means a lot,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We’re probably going to need it. The more preparation you could have for a team like that, the better.”
Carson Palmer threw one interception that thwarted a possible scoring chance for the Raiders (3-10) and lost a fumble that set up a touchdown for the Broncos as Oakland lost its sixth consecutive game. It is the team’s longest skid since losing six in a row in 2007.
The Raiders played the game with heavy hearts as coach Dennis Allen’s father, Grady, died earlier in the week from cardiac arrest. Allen was away from the team for two days but returned Wednesday and coached the game.
“I took my father off life support, and that’s not easy to do,” said Allen, his voice cracking. “So was it hard? Yeah, it was hard. But I know my father would want me to be here with this football team, and I wanted to be here with this football team. So I’m sure you guys can imagine it wasn’t an easy situation.”
The Raiders’ players talked during the week about rallying around their first-year coach, the Broncos’ defensive coordinator last year, but they came out flat against a fierce division rival and were swept in the season series by the Broncos for the first time since 2006.
The game mildly was competitive for only a brief time as the Raiders got on the board late in the first half on a touchdown pass from Palmer to Darren McFadden and then started with the ball in the third quarter trailing 13-7.
McFadden, returning from a four-game absence for a sprained right ankle, broke off a 36-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, but the Raiders’ drive stalled in Denver territory after that, and the Broncos took the game over. McFadden later left the game after reinjuring the ankle.
Manning, who joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with 5,000 career completions, converted a third-and-11 with a perfectly placed 22-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. Manning followed that with a 29-yard completion to Eric Decker, but the drive stalled after a pass-interference call on Matt Giordano that gave the Broncos a first down at the 1. Matt Prater’s 20-yard field goal made it 16-7.
Mike Goodson then made the ill-advised decision to return a kick from 8 yards deep in the end zone, forcing Oakland to start a drive at their 8. Von Miller then beat Khalif Barnes for a sack on third down, stripping the ball from Palmer. Mitch Unrein recovered at the 2, and Moreno scored two plays later to make it 23-7.
Moreno is filling in for the injured Willis McGahee and is giving the Broncos the running game they will need to be successful in the postseason.
“You always have to have your mind ready to carry it as many times as they need,” Moreno said. “That’s what we needed. It felt good. It felt good for this offense, you know all the hard work that we do put in.”
Prater added another field goal later in the third quarter, and Manning went on to his record 12th season with 10 wins as a starting quarterback.
The only remaining drama was whether quarterback project Terrelle Pryor would get his first action of the season for Oakland. He didn’t, giving the frustrated Raiders fans yet another reason to be upset, even though Palmer added a 56-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey and finished with 273 yards passing.
“To rack up this many losses in a row in the fashion that we’ve done is just extremely frustrating,” Palmer said.