DENVER (AP) – Two dropped passes. Two fumbles. Three field goals.
OK, so Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense weren’t exactly flawless.
Hard to imagine what that scoreboard might look like if they ever do play the perfect game.
Even with a mistake here and there, Manning finished 32 for 37 for 374 yards and three scores to lead Denver to a 37-21 runaway over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night.
Manning’s 12 touchdown passes this season 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.
“Just good play-calling,” Manning said. “Trying to make good, smart, sound decisions. I think guys are doing a good job getting open on time.”
Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker each caught a touchdown. No Oakland defender was within three steps of them when they made those catches.
The Raiders (1-2) made their share of big plays, including a 73-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor to Denarius Moore that briefly cut their deficit to 17-7.
But on the next play from scrimmage, Manning hit Decker for 61 yards. Three plays later, the Broncos (3-0) were ahead by 17 again and the rout was on.
Denver has scored 127 points this season. Only the 1968 Dallas Cowboys scored more (132) over their first three games.
Here are five things we learned from Denver’s win over Oakland:
1. MANNING’S A MASTER: Nobody can break down an NFL defense better than No. 18.
He stands at the line, sees what the defense presents, makes whatever adjustments are necessary and knows exactly where he wants to throw the ball. His 86.5 percent completion rate was a career high in any game in which he’s thrown at least 20 passes.
Hard to keep up this pace? Probably so, but Manning has shredded the first three defenses he has seen so far. Next up, the Philadelphia Eagles, who have given up an average of 340 yards passing through three games.
2. STILL FLAWS: Singling out the mistakes of an offense that puts up 37 points feels a little like nitpicking, but rookie Montee Ball’s second lost fumble of the season won’t sit well with a quarterback who demands perfection.
It was especially galling because the fumble came while the Broncos were trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter. Ball was picked in the second round of this year’s draft to do exactly that.
The Broncos remember last year’s playoff game when, with the 180-pound Ronnie Hillman their best healthy option at running back, they could not grind out the first downs they needed to close out the game against the Ravens.
3. PASSING PRYOR: Pryor showed he can throw a little bit, too, finishing 19 of 28 for 281 yards and one touchdown. Pryor, who led all quarterbacks in rushing with 162 yards coming into the week, added another 36 to that total before leaving in the fourth quarter with a concussion.
“He was a little hot and cold,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I thought as the game wore on, specifically in the second half, he probably executed a little bit more and made a couple more big plays for us.”
4. DENVER D: The Broncos will be a much better defense when Von Miller and Champ Bailey return.
It wasn’t so much that the Broncos gave up 281 yards to the inexperienced Pryor, who spent the entire evening playing catch-up. It was that, at times, the Denver `D’ looked bad doing it.
Most notably on Pryor’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore that came after defensive backs Duke Ihenacho and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie overcommitted and let Moore slip behind them.
Two more players got hurt: Ihenacho and defensive back Tony Carter. Severity of those injuries is still unknown, but realistically, the Broncos need to start getting players back, not lose more.
5. POCKET PROTECTOR: Chris Clark needs more work before he’ll be anywhere near the same category as Ryan Clady as Manning’s blindside protector.
Subbing for the injured Clady at left tackle, Clark let Lamarr Houston slip through for a sack and strip of Manning, which short-circuited a Broncos drive at the Oakland 13.
Clark also got hit with an early holding call.
On the positive side, he did a nice job directing Houston away from Manning in the first quarter, giving the quarterback time to complete a 22-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas that set up Denver’s first score.
Manning was focusing on the positive.
“No communications or having to call a timeout because he didn’t know what to do,” he said. “He was sharp in that way.”
– By EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
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