Denver Broncos head coach John Fox always says “It’s not how you start the race, it’s how you finish it. However, the Broncos absolutely needed a strong start against the Oakland Raiders who came into this game having won four straight games in Denver dating back to the 2008 season.
After playing the first three games without a touchdown in the first quarter, Peyton Manning threw a 22-yard pass to Joel Dreessen who made an incredible effort to come down with the ball. Just like that the Broncos were off and running, not down and gunning for a comeback like their previous games.
That start helped the Broncos beat the Raiders 37-6 in a game which many deemed a “must win.” After all, the Broncos hit the road for two very difficult games against the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers before their bye week.
The Broncos didn’t play mistake-free football in the first half by any means. First Demaryius Thomas had a great 40-yard catch and run that was destined to be a touchdown. Credit Thomas for good fundamentals, switching the ball to his outside hand as he approached the end zone, but the ball slipped out and the Raiders recovered the fumble.
Next, a fake field goal that had Matt Prater throwing to offensive lineman Zane Beadles on fourth-and-one drew laughs and head shaking all-around.
“I just kinda told him (Coach Fox) I thought I’d give Manning-to-Stokley a chance before Prater to Beadles,” Manning chuckled after the game.
Thankfully, that’s as bad as it got.
The Broncos opened up the second half with a quick three-and-out and then let Peyton Manning be, well, Peyton Manning. The offense opened up in the no-huddle which allowed Eric Decker to get his first touchdown of the season. The 17-yard pass to Decker was also his 10th career touchdown.
When the Raiders are down, they’re the kind of team that you kick when they’re down, especially if you’re a division rival. And that’s exactly what the Broncos did.
On a 3rd and 14, the Broncos put seven defensive backs on the field where Mike Adams came up with a near interception as Chris Harris brought the pressure. On the ensuing play special teams’ guru David Bruton got his mitt on Shane Lechler’s punt. The ball traveled just two yards and the Broncos had things set up perfectly for another score. This time, it was Willis McGahee running it in for his first touchdown of the game. McGahee had 112 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. He also posted his 32nd 100+ yard rushing game which is the most among any active player in the NFL.
To cap off the high-scoring third quarter, Manning threw a 14-yard strike to Lance Ball who had enough time to stop and sniff the roses before dancing into the end zone untouched and finishing the play off with a Mile High Salute to the orange clad fans in the north stands. With that pass, Manning had his 65th three passing touchdown game of his career (Only Brett Favre has more with 72).
That’s how a third quarter is supposed to be played. Entering this game, the Raiders had outscored their opponents 34-7 in the third quarter. Sunday afternoon, Denver won that battle 21-0. That ties for the highest third quarter scoring in team history, and that’s how much 4 three-and-outs help.
That 45-point loss to the Raiders at home in 2010 can officially be put to rest. It’s dust under the rug, “it was what it was” as Manning would say.
Raiders head coach and former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen probably wanted a patch put over his eye just like the Raiders’ logo. It wasn’t such a welcoming “homecoming.” Then again, the Raiders never receive a flowery welcome mat when on the road.
“They out coached us, they outplayed us, they beat us in every phase of the game so there’s not a lot of positive you can take from it,” Allen said following the game.
Manning, the guy that hurt them the most, finished the game going 30-for-38 for 338 yards, and 3 touchdowns. A QB rating of 130.0 is the proof in the pudding that Manning is indeed more than capable of playing this game again after sitting out all of last year. Those numbers also cushion the $96 million contract he signed.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” Fox said. “Let’s not forget he didn’t play all season, probably more than a year. This is a new team, a new coaching staff, a new city, a new field, a new everything for him. The type of guy he is, he’s just going to get better and better.”
So are these Broncos.