There have been many occasions throughout his 15-year career when Peyton Manning has looked very much like the man who invented the no-huddle offense. Rarely has that been more the case than in the Denver Broncos' 37-6 beatdown of the Oakland Raiders. Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, leading those who have wondered if his arm was back at full strength to discern that against a truly rotten defense, Manning can still let it fly.
The Raiders, coached by ex-Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, suffered the worst margin of defeat to their longtime blood rivals in 50 years, and the second-worst in their history versus the Broncos -- the 1962 Raiders took a 44-7 whacking in the early days of the American Football League.
For the Broncos, this game resembled one of those old AFL shoot-outs -- they didn't punt once in the game, Manning had his fifth-highest completion percentage in a single game, at 78.9. Manning's highest completion rate came in 2006 against these Broncos, and that was the year Manning's Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl. It was as gratifying a win as the quarterback, and his team, could imagine.
"My plan was to play fast," Manning said. "We went no-huddle predominately the whole game. In the second quarter, we kept getting some penalties, and anytime you have penalties or incompletions, it sort of takes away the rhythm of playing fast. The referees have to spot the ball, you have to walk the yardage back. So we were kind of hurting ourselves. I know I talked about last week finding a week for the offense, defense and special teams to be all playing well at the same time and feeding off of each other. We certainly did that. That blocked punt … I think our offense really fed off that momentum and finished out with a couple touchdown drives."
There were some offensive foibles for the Broncos in the first half, which made the second half even more embarrassing for the Raiders. At halftime, Oakland was down 10-6, but the last 30 minutes was nothing more than a highlight show for Denver's offense -- and a referendum on the distance Oakland's defense has to go before it's even serviceable.
"They outcoached 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. "We've got to go back and go to work. We've got the bye week coming up so we're going to evaluate what we're doing schematically, what we're doing personnel-wise and we've got to come up with a way to play better."
Most surprising for Allen, who coached Denver's defense in the 2011 season when the Broncos bagged a surprise playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, was how his new team could not decipher what Manning was running down the stretch. The third quarter has been especially problematic for the Raiders -- they've been outscored, 55-7, in that 15-minute frame through the first four weeks of the 2012 season.
The only good thing for the Raiders' defense is that they have a bye next Sunday. At this point, it's not out of the question that the bye might put up a couple touchdowns on them.
"I have no clue," defensive lineman Lamarr Houston said of that third-quarter statistical oddity. "We come out and we try and play tough and we try and play our game. The other team, you have to give credit to them, they are good teams and they play hard and they play good in the second half of football games. We just have to take this bye week and step up and work on that."
Second-half rolls by the opposing offense would seem to indicate that Oakland's opponents are seeing things they can exploit at intermission, and the Raiders aren't adjusting correspondingly. That's not good news for a head coach who prides himself on his defensive acumen. While he was quick to assign blame to his defense, Allen also took a hard postgame look at an offense that struggled to get anything going. In the second half, the Raiders gained 74 total yards and were 0-7 on third-down conversions.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp isn't exactly the next Bill Walsh, but there wasn't much in his playbook (or anyone else's) that could counter the Raiders' lack of execution. While Manning thrived, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer looked more like a man whose near future is in broadcasting.
"It got out of control there at the end. We moved the ball pretty well, but then we would have a holding and put ourselves in first-and-long and when you're going against two pass-rushers — two Pro-Bowl pass-rushers — guys that are double-digit sacks every year, you can't be in first-and-20 and leave yourselves hanging on third-and-long. Third-and-longs killed us. We're putting our coach — coach Knapp — in a tough situation. There's not many good calls on third-and-long when you repeatedly have it. It's a tough loss, obviously — it's a division loss — but this team is going to stick together."
Broncos head coach John Fox, who has presided over an inconsistent offense through 2012 as Manning finds his way on a new team, was happy to see some consistency from team and quarterback.
"He's getting more comfortable," Fox said of Manning. "Let's not forget he didn't play all [last] 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. He's a championship guy and he's going to get used to his teammates, our players. He just was better at it today than earlier."
For now, the 2-2 Broncos will take what they can get. A historic division win against the man who used to run their defense? Not a bad way to end the first quarter of the season.