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.
This 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 for 37 for 374 yards and set a few more records while outwitting the overmatched Raiders (1-2).
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“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 touchdown passes are one more than Tom Brady’s previous 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.
“He’s started where he left off last year and improved on that,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “We’ve brought in some guys who have helped us. He’s an incredible player as far as the way he prepares and communicates things to his teammates.”
As much as the numbers in the latest win, 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 uncovered 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 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.
“All of them did a good job competing,” Manning said of his receivers. “We knew we were in a challenge, because Oakland has good cover corners. Mix up their coverage well.
“Guys did a good job getting open versus man, and finding holes in the zones. All of them did a good job running with the ball after the catch.”