Denver Broncos: 2013 Week 3 OAK at DEN

Peyton ManningAaron Ontiveroz/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and the Broncos are geared toward a distant vision: the postseason.

DENVER -- Peyton Manning was in a hurry Monday night. After one of the sharpest games of his Hall of Fame career, he hustled into the Denver Broncos' locker room. Then he jumped into a cold tub. He emerged after 20 minutes, dressed and spoke to reporters with his teeth still chattering and his hands stuffed deeply in his pockets.

"Short week," he said, gasping for air as he warmed up. "Trying to recover."

No sir. Manning didn't take a single moment to consider what he accomplished during the Broncos' 37-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders. He didn't seem to care a lick, as he might say, about becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 12 touchdown passes in his first three games. His icy glare betrayed no interest in Monday night's 86.5 completion percentage, the highest for his career in games with at least 20 attempts.

If he was pleased with the Broncos' 127 points and 1,460 yards through three games -- the second- and fourth-best marks, respectively, in NFL history -- he gave no indication.

"I still think there is plenty we can improve on," he said. "I really do."

This reaction seemed wholly appropriate to me. It reflected my own and perhaps yours as well. Like Manning, we've been here and done this before. We've dutifully recorded his individual records and accomplishments. It's as if we're numb to his elite play.

Oh, Manning completed 32 of 37 attempts for 374 yards and three touchdowns? Huh. Was it in the Super Bowl?

Yes, the only drama remaining in Manning's Hall of Fame career, and the only thing most of us are really paying attention to, is what will happen when this Broncos team reaches the playoffs. Admit it. We're all in a hurry to get there, Manning included. Can he win another Super Bowl? Or is this another year of regular-season romps and a playoff dud?

A survey of the Broncos' locker room revealed an undercurrent of the same feeling. Receiver Wes Welker shrugged his shoulders when asked about Manning's performance. After all, what is there to say about a prologue? Fellow receiver Eric Decker, who caught eight passes for 133 yards, said that "our goal is to win championships" and added that "you don't think about" individual game accomplishments.

Frankly, these are nothing but preseason games for the Broncos, warm-ups to the real thing that is still more than three months away. There is no sense judging anything this team does until then.

We've done that enough already. As you are surely aware, Manning's teams have made eight one-and-done playoff appearances -- including the Broncos' 2012 divisional-round loss to the Baltimore Ravens. So pardon me -- and Manning, and the rest of the Broncos -- if we can't get too worked up about another brilliant regular-season game.

"Maybe in 10 or 15 years," Decker said, "I'll look back at stuff like this."

To be fair, Manning is playing as well as he ever has. What we saw Monday night was an elevation of even his elite standards. He carved up every defensive look the Raiders gave him, completing 15 consecutive passes at one point in the first half. All five of his incompletions were either knocked down by Raiders defenders or dropped by his receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Through three games, Manning has had just 33 passes fall incomplete and hasn't thrown an interception in 122 passes. I'm not trying to diminish any of that.

Manning, of course, briskly shook his head when asked to compare this start to others in his career. (Or maybe he was still cold.)

"I don't have a great comparison to other years," he said.

Of course he does. He just isn't interested in discussing it, not yet anyway, not when there is so much time between now and what really matters. The Broncos might be the best team in the NFL at the moment, one that will get better when suspended linebacker Von Miller and injured cornerback Champ Bailey return, but we all know that doesn't mean a thing.

If the NFL crowned a champion of the regular season, Manning would have more rings than fingers. It doesn't, of course, and he knows it as well as anyone. So let's hurry this thing along. Is it January yet?

Broncos get down to AFC West business

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
1:55
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Eric DeckerDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEric Decker and the Denver Broncos are heading in the right direction in the AFC West.

DENVER -- Three weeks into the season and there is one team in the NFL that has scored more than 100 points.

Actually, one team in the NFL that has scored more than 110 points. OK, one team in the NFL that scored more than 120 points.

And with their third consecutive game with at least 37 points the Denver Broncos formally announced their plans in the AFC West on Monday night with a nationally-televised 37-21 win over the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Raiders rookie tight end Nick Kasa, a suburban Denver native who played at the University of Colorado and has spent a lifetime discussing the Broncos with friends and relatives, may have put it the best.

“They’re a devastating team," Kasa said. “That’s obvious from [Monday night]."

As August drew to a close, there were plenty of folks in and around the NFL who wondered how things would look in the AFC West. After all, the Broncos, with Peyton Manning behind center, are surrounded by three rebuilding projects in the division.

The Raiders are in the second year of what has been the league’s most extreme makeover and sported 10 different defensive starters from a year ago Monday night. In San Diego, former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is in his first season as the team’s head coach.

They are both 1-2 after three weeks and despite some quality moments in those three games -- small glimpses of potential -- they both look like there’s plenty of work still to do before all is said and done this season.

The Chiefs are another matter. First-year coach Andy Reid has Kansas City out of the gate at 3-0 with a defense that has surrendered just 34 points. But Chiefs-Broncos matchups are for another day.

What the Broncos showed Monday was division games are important to them. Everybody talks a good game about division games, about how they’re the only guaranteed road into the postseason for any team, but idle mid-week chatter is one thing, getting it done is another.

The Broncos showed the focus of a team with designs on bigger things, and that they want to leave no doubt in the division along the way.

Quarterback Peyton Manning will routinely say division games “count double," and losses in the division, especially home losses in the division, sting a little more. John Elway reeled in perhaps the greatest marquee player to hit the open market in the free-agency era. One of the reasons he wanted Manning so badly, beyond the extended and sometimes breathtaking list of quarterback stuff, was Manning’s constant push for his team to be a little better tomorrow than it was today.

Elway has described it as “that uncomfortable feeling," at times.

That can be seen in how the Broncos have handled their division business of late. In 2011, or YBM (the year before Manning) when they won the division at 8-8 overall, they were just 3-3 in AFC West games. Last season, Manning’s first in Denver, the Broncos were 6-0 in the division on the way to a 13-3 mark.

Or as linebacker Wesley Woodyard put it after Monday's victory: “It’s a division opponent, and the Raiders, they always bring their best shot. I hate losing to any division guys, especially the Raiders."

The bottom line is, in a league cocooned in overreaction, with every win celebrated like a lunar landing and every loss treated with a this-team-stinks-forever approach, the good teams simply need a get-off-my-lawn guy or two to keep the heads level. They need some grumpiness to sweep up the rose petals that get tossed from time to time.

Sure, there is a line there between some kind of joyless pursuit of victory and the easily obtained misplaced ego, but a good team needs some perspective as much as touchdowns. And the Broncos showed Monday night they are good, ruthlessly good at times, with a dose of perspective.

Manning threw three touchdown passes, was as dialed in with the Broncos receivers as he has been at any point in his career -- at one point late in the first half both of his incompletions were drops -- and the Broncos put up their second 500-yard game of the season.

The defense stifled the Raiders’ run game -- Oakland had averaged just more than 198 yards rushing coming in -- as Oakland finished with 49 yards on 17 carries. Yet after surrendering a touchdown in the third quarter and another in the fourth quarter, Woodyard, for one, was swatting away any compliments.

“No, I’m not pleased at all," Woodyard said. “We gave up 21 points. We’ve got to stop them at the end of the game. I’m not satisfied at all with that win. … We’ll definitely take a win any time we can get one, but to give up 21 points, got to stop that leaky football."

Monday’s win was the Broncos' first in division play this season and will also be the last time they face a division opponent until Nov. 10, at San Diego. A lot can happen between now and then, but it's pretty clear Denver has the goods and may have to wrestle with itself a bit along the way because of it.

“We have to just play our football," Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “I say fast, physical and violent, but we can’t give up garbage points, make mistakes, things like that. We just have to keep grindin’, man. Win your division first, worry about week to week; do that and things will work out. And we want things to work out, so everybody knows you have to do that. We’re 3-0 and moving on. That's it, look at the win and get to work."

Locker Room Buzz: Denver Broncos

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
12:45
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DENVER -- Observed in the locker room after the Denver Broncos' 37-21 win against the Oakland Raiders:

Bailey
Closing in: You don’t need to be around Champ Bailey for very long to understand how difficult it is for the 15-year veteran not to be on the field when the Broncos (3-0) have so much going for them. The cornerback, who injured his left foot in a preseason loss to Seattle, struggled a bit in warm-ups Monday, and the Broncos decided to hold him out of a third consecutive regular-season game. After the victory, though, Bailey maintained he’s “close’’ to being back. But for a player who’s never played in a Super Bowl, it’s clear Bailey wants to join what is clearly a team with February potential.

Lost opportunity: Rookie running back Montee Ball, who was put into Monday’s win to help close things out down the stretch, lost his second fumble of the season. And given Ronnie Hillman's 66 yards on nine carries, it could push Ball down the depth chart in a rotation where carries are already difficult to come by.

Webster comes up big: He was an unheralded pick in April’s draft, but rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster continues to impress the Broncos with his poise and preparation. The key: pop quizzes from his teammates. “Sometimes they just start asking me questions to see if I know what we’re doing," Webster said, "sometimes even when the coaches aren’t around.’’

Ihenacho tweaks ankle: Broncos pulled safety Duke Ihenacho, who injured his right ankle in the Week 2 victory over the Giants, out of Monday’s game in the second half. Ihenacho tweaked the ankle late against the Raiders, but looked to be moving pretty well after the game.

Rapid Reaction: Broncos 37, Raiders 21

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:43
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DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 37-21 win over the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The Broncos opened up division play with a rather tidy message to their AFC West brethren. The Broncos showed offensive versatility, playing with both power and speed, to go with a defensive edge despite Von Miller and Champ Bailey missing their third consecutive game. Beating the Broncos on their home field -- at altitude -- looks like a daunting task.

Stock watch: Wide receiver Eric Decker had a tough season opener when he dropped a touchdown as well as another pass that would have been a certain third-down conversion in the win over the Ravens. He had another drop in the win over the Giants in Week 2. Despite those drops, Manning had targeted him more than any other player in the Broncos’ first two games. It all came together for Decker on Monday. He had six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in the first half finished with eight catches for 133 yards.

Mission impossible: There are NFL defensive coordinators who say defending Manning under any circumstance is a tall order, but give Manning four receivers who can consistently win one-on-one matchups and it's a long night waiting to happen for a defense. Of Manning’s first 21 completions on Monday, six went to Decker, five to Demaryius Thomas, six to Wes Welker and two to Julius Thomas.

Before the third quarter ended, Manning had completed passes to eight different players.

Webster steps up: Throughout training camp and the preseason, Champ Bailey talked about rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster's instincts, confidence and ability to bounce back from the inevitable tough play. And when Tony Carter left the game in the first quarter with a right ankle injury, Webster stepped in and chipped in with two big hits and steady work the rest of the way in the team’s nickel and dime packages.

What’s next: Break out the stopwatches with the pedal-to-the-metal Eagles set to come to Denver on Sunday. Philadelphia, however, may need all of its thrill-packed offense since the Philadelphia defense is 26th in the league in points allowed per game (28.7) and 30th in yards per game allowed (438.3).

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