Manning shines as Weeden was knocked out in third quarter
By his own estimation, Peyton Manning is not the quarterback he used to be.
Try telling that to the Cleveland Browns.
Manning threw for a season-high 339 yards and three touchdowns, two of which he zinged into impossibly tight windows to well-covered receivers, That pushed the Denver Broncos into a first-place tie in the AFC standings with a 34-12 win over the Browns.
The 36-year-old quarterback got his 72nd career three-touchdown game Sunday as Denver (12-3) won its 10th straight. Manning has 34 touchdowns and 4,355 passing yards this season — second-most touchdowns he’s thrown in his 14 seasons and 203 away from second-most yards, as well.
Yet, when asked if he’s playing as well as he did in his prime, Manning didn’t hesitate: “I don’t. I do not. I don’t,” he said.
“A 36-year-old quarterback coming off a year and a half off, playing on a new team, I’m trying to be as good as I possibly can in this scenario,” he said in an unusually candid news conference. “It’s a different kind of body I’m playing in and just a different kind of quarterback play for me.”
Yes, Manning says, it takes more time with the trainer, more time in the weight room and there’s more mystery because of the injury. But when he hits the field, he looks like the quarterback who has a record four Most Valuable Player awards and is in the running for a fifth.
His first two touchdown passes, to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, were Exhibits A and B of his prowess on a breezy, warm day the quarterback used to test out an orange glove. He may use it when the weather gets colder come playoff time.
The throw to Thomas was a 22-yarder lobbed to the back of the end zone. The 10-yard touchdown to Decker was more of a laser. Like the Thomas touchdown, it was thrown in leaping range of the receiver where only he could catch it.
“People call that the Dwight Clark throw,” Manning said of the iconic Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark touchdown that won the 1981 NFC title game for San Francisco.
Cleveland (5-10) lost its second straight after winning three in a row.
“Our record (stinks) and everybody is disappointed,” defensive back Joe Haden said. “Every week it seems like you lose a game and you try to explain why it happened, that you just lost. We need to do better. We just need to win. We can’t keep coming here talking all the same.”
Miller’s 11/2 sacks gave him 171/2 for the season, topping Elvis Dumervil’s franchise record by 1/2.
“Individual accomplishments are great, but I think it just says the type of defense that we play here,” Miller said.
Denver put this game away during an eight-minute stretch in the third quarter after Cleveland cut its deficit to 14-6.
Manning led a 91-yard touchdown drive, highlighted when he threw a dart that slammed off Decker’s hands and dropped into Stokley’s. Just another Broncos first down — and another sign this was not Cleveland’s day. Two plays later, Manning hit Decker for an 8-yard touchdown, and three plays after that, Miller knocked Weeden out of the game.
With his 53 yards, Trent Richardson has 950, surpassing Jim Brown for the franchise rookie record.
Denver reached 30 points for the 10th time this season.