OAKLAND — It wasn't close, it wasn't really a blowout. It wasn't what you'd call exciting, nor was it devoid of big plays. The Denver Broncos' 26-13 victory over the Raiders at O.co Coliseum on Thursday night was a lot like most observers of AFC West football figured it would be: a clinical dissection of a highly flawed team, by a clearly superior opponent.
The Raiders certainly had their moments. They got a few well-timed sacks against Peyton Manning, a long touchdown by Darrius Heyward-Bey and a long-anticipated one by Darren McFadden, and an impressive goal-line stand.
And yet the Broncos never seem truly threatened. Every time the Raiders did something good, Manning and his teammates went a step better. It isn't hard to figure out why Denver (10-3) is riding an eight-game winning streak, while Oakland (3-10) is mired in a six-game losing streak.
Both teams were 8-8 last year. This year a huge gulf separates them, and there is no obvious explanation other than Manning. In his 15th year, but his first with the Broncos, he remains the NFL's ultimate tactician.
Manning put on another clinic Thursday. His passer rating (95.8) was lower than Carson Palmer's (101.1), which may be the best argument against passer rating as a diagnostic tool. Manning called every play without a huddle, waving and pointing furiously at the line of scrimmage as he audibled. He got the Broncos lined up for snaps at an incredible rate when he needed to, and milked every millisecond off the clock when he was working with a comfortable lead.
Manning completed 26 of 36 passes for 310 yards, and was especially deadly on third down, helping the Broncos convert 7 of 14. Denver wound up with 30 first downs.
"Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "So he does that to a lot of teams. But obviously that was the critical variable, I thought, defensively in the football game, is that we didn't do a good enough job of getting off the field on third down."
As linebacker Philip Wheeler said: "He's a great quarterback, as in calling the right plays for the right situations. That's still not an excuse. ... I feel like we just got to get off the field on third downs, man. We can't have those long drives. When we got long drives, the pass rush starts to get tired."
Long drives? The Broncos got the ball with 5:36 left in the game, up 13 points, and never gave it back. They got to the Oakland 9-yard line before Manning took a knee three times to kill the clock.
Twice, the Raiders seemed to gain momentum and climb back in this game. They couldn't sustain it either time.
The first parry came in the second quarter. The Broncos has scored on their first three possessions, and looked to be well on their way to a fourth when Manning hung a pass to Matthew Willis down the right side, and cornerback Phillip Adams stole the ball with a diving catch.
Adams' interception seemed to get the offense flowing. Palmer passed the Raiders down the field and on third-and-2 from the Denver 6-yard line, pumped right and then tossed left to McFadden on a screen pass. The running back waltzed in for a touchdown, cutting the score to 13-7. That's where it stood at halftime.