Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
DENVER (USA TODAY) -- Not even an hour had passed since Peyton Manning jogged off the field with another ho-hum three-touchdown performance in the Broncos' 37-21 win against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night when Manning already was thinking about what's coming up next.
Before he slid on his suit jacket and stepped to an interview podium to rehash a night in which he became the first quarterback to ever throw 12 touchdowns without an interception by Week 3, Manning slipped into the cold tub for 20 minutes of bone-chilling, but much-needed, recovery time to start preparing his body for Sunday.
"Short week," Manning said, his teeth still chattering.
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Manning had just five incomplete passes Monday - going 32-of-37 for a personal best 86.5 completion percentage - and threw for 374 yards. He did not throw an interception for the third consecutive game.
It's the type of game most quarterbacks would dream about having maybe once in a season. It wasn't even Manning's best game of this season, not after tossing seven touchdowns here 18 days ago.
"Peyton just does what he does, and it's amazing," running back Ronnie Hillman said. "Everybody is like, 'Oh my God, how great is Peyton?' And I'm like, 'It's just Peyton.' I'm used to it now."
Has Manning's passing magic already become this routine?
Consider that in just three weeks, he's already thrown 12 touchdowns, including 10 here at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and led the Broncos to three lopsided wins. The Broncos are one of seven undefeated teams, but perhaps no one other than Seattle has been so dominant, so early.
Combine Monday's output with 49 points against the Baltimore Ravens and 41 against the New York Giants, and the Broncos have scored 127 points, or 31 more points than the next-best team (Green Bay) and 23 more than the league's worst three offensive teams - Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh - have scored altogether.
Manning certainly has made this all look so easy, but could it possibly feel that way?
"It's not. I can't tell you what it looks like. We do put a lot of work into the preparation, and our preparation has been excellent these first three weeks," Manning said. "It's still a new offense, in my opinion, with our new players. So we take advantage of the practice time that we have, and hopefully we can transfer that to the game."
The Broncos might have solved one offensive issue against the Raiders by scoring their first first-quarter points on an Eric Decker touchdown and Matt Prater field goal, but new issues arose. Manning lost a fumble in the third quarter after Lamarr Houston bull-rushed past new starting left tackle Chris Clark, and rookie running back Montee Ball lost his second fumble of the season. Both of those turnovers happened inside the red zone.
Then there were three drives - one in the first quarter, one to end the first half and one to start the third quarter - that stalled and resulted in field goals.
Yes, even a team that is averaging 42.3 points per game can be greedy.
"We'll take the points, no question about it," Manning said. "But we've spent a lot of time on the red zone. We're hard on our red-zone game plan, and we had some chances to score more touchdowns tonight, and we're going to need those instead of field goals."
But by the time those issues arose against the Raiders, a team overmatched at just about every position, Manning already had thrown three touchdowns - to Decker, receiver Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas - in the first half.
The hefty lead allowed the Broncos to try to slow their pace in the second half and, for the first time all year, showcase each of their three running backs, and not just starter Knowshon Moreno, who had 12 carries, mostly in the first half.
Hillman, unseated as the starter at the end of the preseason, averaged 7.3 yards per carry on his nine attempts and carried the Broncos on a drive all the way to the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
As the officials deliberated if Hillman had crossed the goal line after a 13-yard gain, Hillman, Moreno and Ball decided to play rock-paper-scissors for which running back would get the goal line carry if the score was overturned. Hillman said Moreno threw down a rock one beat too early and was disqualified, and Hillman's scissors trumped Ball's paper.
So on the next play, it was Hillman's touchdown.
The Raiders managed to make the rest of the fourth quarter interesting - enough so that Manning's backup, Brock Osweiler, returned to the bench after he started to warm up - but attention quickly turned to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who threw for 281 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a concussion, gave the Broncos a little preview of the type of mobile quarterback they'll see in six days, with Michael Vick.
"You want guys certainly excited about the win, but learning what we can do better," Manning said.