DENVER – No quarterback has ever started a season as well as Peyton Manning has in 2013.
At this point it's pretty hard to imagine Manning not winning the MVP award at the end of the season, as long as he stays healthy. The Broncos quarterback is playing at a level that may be unsurpassed in NFL history, much less by any 37-year-old who has played the game.
Manning picked apart the Raiders on Monday night in a 37-21 win. He was 32-of-37 for 374 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He now owns the NFL record for most touchdowns through three games to start the season, with 12. He has yet to throw an interception. He came in with an unfathomable 131.0 rating for the season, then had a 152.1 rating in the first half against Oakland. He has 1,143 yards already this season. Manning is on pace to throw for 6,096 yards and 64 touchdowns. Again, he's 37 years old.
No game in the NFL is easy. This isn't college, where Alabama is favored by six touchdowns against some hapless foe and usually wins by that much. But the Broncos and Manning sure made this win look easy. They're the clear favorites in the AFC and didn't do anything to change that perception on Monday night.
Manning has a command of this offense and the game that is impressive to watch. Having a great set of receivers to throw to helps. He used them all on Monday night. There were touchdowns to Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Manning always found the open receiver. And when he had to squeeze in a pass, like he did on a 22-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas into an extremely tight window close to the sideline, Manning did just that.
The only frightening moment happened late in the third quarter. Left tackle Chris Clark, starting for the first time at left tackle in the NFL due to Ryan Clady's injury, was beat clean around the edge by Raiders end Lamarr Houston. Houston hit Manning hard, and his surgically-repaired neck snapped back like he was in a car accident. Manning lost a fumble, but he got up. The play showed the potential problem with losing one of the five best tackles in the NFL for the rest of the year.
That might end up costing the Broncos later in the season, but it surely didn't matter in the final outcome on Monday. The Raiders didn't put up much of a fight, but that had a lot more to do with the 3-0 Broncos. Denver is the dominant team in the AFC, and depending how you feel about Seattle, in the NFL.
It's hard to imagine Manning playing at this level over 16 games, just because nobody has ever done it before. But if anyone is going to, it might just be the greatest quarterback in NFL history.