Manning throws for 305 yards, Broncos top Saints

DENVER (AP) — The dinged-up thumb. The New Orleans defense.

Neither came close to slowing down Peyton Manning on Sunday night.

Despite banging his throwing thumb on an opponent's helmet in the second quarter, 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.

"It's fine," Manning said about his thumb.

"As a quarterback, your biggest fear is hitting your hand on the helmet

of a defensive

lineman. It's mostly the nail. Might be sore tomorrow."

The Broncos gained 530 yards — a season high — against the NFL's worst defense. The Saints are the first team to allow 400

yards in seven straight games since 1950, which is as far back as STATS LLC can search its NFL database.

Coming in on a two-game winning streak of

its own, 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.

"I've got to do a better job of preparing

our football team," Vitt said. "I've got to do a better job of getting

the team

ready physically, mentally and emotionally to play in a game like

this. And quite frankly, there's things I need to do better."

The Broncos' defense 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.

Brees threw for both scores to extend his record to 50 straight games with at least one touchdown pass. He also reached 301

career touchdown passes to climb past John Elway for sixth on the career list.

Small consolation on a night in which the Broncos defense looked almost as good as its offense.

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard did extensive damage, finishing with 13 tackles, two pass breakups, 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.

"They told me before the game they would keep me free to make plays," Woodyard said.

The Saints converted only 1 of 12 third downs.

"This football team has been through a lot," Vitt said. "But it's not an excuse for the way we played tonight. It's not an

excuse for dropped balls, missed tackles."

Manning capitalized on Woodyard's pick by

leading Denver on 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.

"I was really nervous at first but then I realized what a tough guy he is," Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley said of the Manning

injury.

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.

After getting through the toughest part of their schedule and reaching the bye week at 3-3, the Broncos have only one opponent

on the rest of the schedule that currently has a winning record (Baltimore). Too early to call them front-runners, though

they certainly played like it against one of the league's most beleaguered teams.

"I'm sure the coaches will find some mistakes on the film," Manning said. "But it was what we were looking for."

NOTES: The Broncos lost a fumble in their 12th straight game, the longest streak in the NFL since the Cardinals lost 18 straight

in 1996-97. ... Saints S Roman Harper left in the third quarter with a concussion. ... Manning threw for 300 yards, three

touchdowns and completed 70 percent of his passes for a record fourth straight game.