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 victory for Manning and the Denver Broncos, who rolled over the Oakland Raiders 37-21 on Monday night. Denver’s 127 points lead the league and are 31 more than second-place Green Bay.
Manning was 32-for-37 for 374 yards and three touchdowns, and he set a few more records while outwitting the Raiders (1-2).
“You see flashes of good things,” Manning said. “When we’re executing and not making mistakes, we can go the distance.”
His 12 touchdown 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.
As much as the numbers, it was Manning’s deciphering of the Oakland defense that made jaws drop in this one.
His first touchdown, a 2-yard pass to Eric Decker, came after a subtle play-action fake that froze the defense and left Decker wide open in the back of the end zone.
Manning’s targets for the next two touchdowns — Welker and Julius Thomas — didn’t have defenders within three steps of them. 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.
OK, so the evening wasn’t perfect. There were the five incompletions, though two of them were flat-out drops and another two hit receivers in the hands, but would have been difficult catches. The Broncos settled for three field goals and had to punt once. Rookie Montee Ball lost another fumble. Denver came a field goal short of reaching 40 points for the third straight game.
And Manning’s prediction that Chris Clark would be a seamless replacement for injured Ryan Clady as his blindside protector didn’t 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.
And any complaints about Denver’s offense seem like quibbling given what’s gone on so far. 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.
As for Denver’s biggest rival, the Raiders — since Manning arrived, the Broncos have outscored them 100-40 in three runaway wins.
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