The Associated Press
A dinged-up right thumb wasn’t enough to throw Peyton Manning off his game, and to no one’s surprise, neither was the New Orleans Saints’ defense.
Despite banging his throwing thumb on an opponent’s helmet in the second quarter Sunday night, Manning passed for 305 yards and three scores, led a pair of 90-plus-yard touchdown drives and easily outplayed Drew Brees to lead the Denver Broncos to a 34-14 victory over the Saints.
Manning surpassed the 300-yard mark for the fifth straight time to match his personal best and set a franchise record for Denver (4-3). He completed 22 of 30 throws for a passer rating of 138.9. Willis McGahee ran for 122 yards and a score for the Broncos, who won two in a row for the first time this season and took sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
The Broncos gained 530 yards — a season high — against the NFL’s worst defense, which came in allowing more yards (2,793) over the first six games of a season than any team since 1950.
New Orleans (2-5) was hoping to get a boost from the return of linebackers-turned-interim head coach Joe Vitt from his six-game suspension for the team’s bounty scandal. All he can do is stand on the sidelines, though, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma — another Saint implicated in the scandal — returned to the starting lineup, but he couldn’t plug the holes, either.
The Broncos’ defense, meanwhile, held Brees and the league’s top passing offense to 213 yards and two scores, the second marking the first points Denver has allowed in the fourth quarter since opening week.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard did extensive damage, finishing with 13 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception, when Vitt chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Denver 47 early in the second quarter with the game tied at 7.
Manning answered with a 56-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown, capped on a 13-yard pass to Eric Decker, who was all alone when Jabari Greer slipped. Decker celebrated by spiking the ball a good 10 rows into the stands.
A bit later, Manning dinged his thumb while completing a 23-yard pass to Decker, leaving a trace of blood across the quarterback’s thumb. Manning handed off the next four plays and the Broncos settled for a field goal before halftime. But when Manning returned for the third quarter, he warmed up with no trouble and showed no signs of injury.
He then answered any questions by going 4 for 4 to start the third quarter, moving the Broncos 93 yards and capping it with a 1-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a 24-7 lead.
Thomas finished with seven catches for 137 yards. Decker also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for a 31-7 lead. He finished with 43 yards receiving.
Denver’s first scoring drive opened at the 2 and began with four straight runs by McGahee for gains of 4, 12, 7 and 3. That set up play action and Manning hit Thomas for 41 yards. Five plays later, Manning dropped back, peaked through the crowded line and somehow picked out McGahee among all the big men clogging things up. That little flip screen was good for 14 yards and set up McGahee’s 1-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.