Coming into the game, Manning had already set the single-season touchdown passing record with 51, so anything he added against the Raiders would be gravy. He did need, however, 266 yards passing to establish a new single-season passing yardage record.
So with the Raiders' defense having essentially liquefied since Thanksgiving, the cynics suggested Manning would set the mark in the first half. The Silver and Black optimists thought the Raiders' defense would make a stand or two before intermission, at least.
And yet, with 18 seconds remaining in the first half, Manning was a mere 5 yards away from passing Drew Brees in the record book … and the Broncos were on the Oakland 5-yard line, facing a first-and-goal situation.
Taking the snap out of the shotgun, Manning calmly spied Thomas in a curl route on the left in front of linebacker Kevin Burnett and placed the ball just beyond a diving Burnett's reach. Thomas cradled the ball, spun to his right, and walked into the end zone in front of cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. The Broncos led 31-0 at the half en route to a 34-14 victory that clinched the AFC's top seed for the Broncos.
With that completion, Manning had the single-season passing yardage record (5,477) and, with four first-half TDs, the single-season TD pass mark (55). The Broncos also became the highest-scoring team in league history that day, finishing with 606 points.
Manning did not play in the second half and some controversy bubbled up when a 7-yard completion to Eric Decker late in the first quarter appeared to be a lateral, which would have meant Decker had a 7-yard run rather than a 7-yard reception and Manning fell 6 yards shy of Brees. Alas, the NFL did not overturn the initial ruling of a completed pass and Manning holds the record.
The Raiders, meanwhile, had a front-row seat to history … and could do nothing about it as their season came to a merciful close on a six-game losing streak. They finished 4-12 for the second consecutive season.
Perhaps nothing encapsulated the Raiders' defensive failings in the second half of the season more than Manning carving them up in the first half of the finale.