DENVER — With Peyton Manning in mind, the Oakland Raiders were eager to see how their retooled offense and revamped defense stood up against the mighty Denver Broncos.
The answer on both accounts: not very well. Broncos 37, Raiders 21.
Manning completed a career-high 86.5 percent of his passes, picking apart the Raiders in every way imaginable.
All the mistakes Oakland could get away with against hapless Jacksonville were exposed and exploited by the four-time MVP playing as well as he ever has at age 37.
"You just know coming in and playing a team like the Broncos, you don't have any room for error," said Charles Woodson. "Playing against Jacksonville, you have some room for some things and you can make up for it. But with him, you can't. He's going to find whatever weakness you have out there, if you're not fundamentally sound in what you have to do, he's going to find it, he's going to exploit it. He did it tonight."
Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor promised he wouldn't try to match Manning lest he commit unforced errors.
It didn't matter.
Oakland's offense was overwhelmed by Denver's swarming defense and by game's end Pryor was in the locker room with a concussion.
The only Oakland defensive starter who was back from last year's 63-point onslaught by Denver in the Broncos' sweep of the Raiders was right defensive end Lamarr Houston, and he wasn't able to capitalize on Chris Clark's first start as Manning's new blindside protector until his sack-strip in the third quarter when the Raiders trailed 30-7.
"You've got to get to 18," Woodson said. "If you don't get to 18, you're going to have a long night."
On offense, Woodson continued, "you've got to sustain drives to keep the ball out of his hands."
The Raiders didn't do that, either.
Manning completed 32 of 37 passes for 374 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. All three of his TD passes came in the first half as Denver built a 27-7 lead at the break.
Coach Dennis Allen didn't even trot out Sebastian Janikowski for a record long field goal at the end of the first half, choosing instead to have Pryor take the snap himself at midfield – and Oakland's young mobile QB was dumped for an 11-yard sack.
"I thought we had a better chance of getting a Hail Mary pass than really attempting a 68-yard field goal," Allen said.
The Raiders didn't have a prayer with Manning's near-perfect performance.
With Brandian Ross starting at strong safety for the injured Tyvon Branch, Oakland (1-2) had 10 newcomers on defense, including Woodson, who snubbed the Broncos in free agency, and Tracy Porter, who had a forgettable season with the Broncos (3-0) last season and who sustained a concussion in his return to Denver.
Trailing 17-0, Pryor hit Denarius Moore over the middle and over-aggressive free safety Duke Ihenacho collided with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As they lay at midfield, Moore raced into the end zone.
Manning and the Broncos' high-octane offense didn't flinch.
On first down, Manning fit the ball into a tight spot to Eric Decker, who spun upfield as cornerback Mike Jenkins, who had gone for the pick, tumbled out of bounds.
"Any inch or mistake that he sees he's going to put the ball there and find that hole," Jenkins said.
Decker was finally brought down at the Oakland 19 after a 61-yard gain, and Manning hit tight end Julius Thomas for a 13-yard touchdown toss, his third of the night and 12th of the season, breaking Tom Brady's record off 11 TDs through Week 3, set in 2011.
The Raiders also retooled their offense in the offseason by firing coordinator Greg Knapp, who landed in Denver as Manning's new position coach. They made the change because Darren McFadden couldn't get going in Knapp's zone-blocking scheme.
McFadden came into the game as the AFC's top rusher with 177 yards, but he was held to 9 yards on 12 carries.
McFadden did finish with a perfect passer rating of 158.3, however, as he threw a 16-yard TD toss to Marcel Reece, his first completion in two throws in the NFL.
Manning & Co. responded with an 80-yard TD drive and Oakland tacked on a meaningless touchdown run by McFadden after Matt Flynn came in for Pryor, who went 19 for 28 for 281 yards, a TD and no interceptions.
Pryor, said Woodson, is "a guy that's getting his chance and I think that with each week he's getting a little bit more comfortable and he did some good things tonight. So, it'll be a tough blow, especially for him in his development as a player, if he's not able to shake it off and bounce back and come back next week."
In that case, Flynn, beaten out in camp, would start against Washington.
"I'm always going to be ready," Flynn said. "That's one thing this team will never had to worry about is me being ready."
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