Manning is focused on much smaller goals — showing improvement week to week.
The Broncos managed to do just that in a short week as Knowshon Moreno sparked a struggling running game with 119 yards and a touchdown and Manning threw for 310 yards and another score to help Denver roll past the Oakland Raiders, 26-13 on Thursday night.
"We talk about getting better," Manning said. "All the other stuff, that's not what we talk about. If we get better each week, we'll see what happens from there."
Manning extended his franchise record with his 30th touchdown pass on the game's opening drive, became the fastest quarterback to reach 5,000 career completions and earned his record 12th 10-win season as a starter.
That helped the Broncos (10-3) move a half-game ahead of New England and Baltimore for the second-best record in the AFC. Denver visits Baltimore next week in a game that will help decide who gets a first-round playoff bye.
"That would be great, but we can't really concentrate on that," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who intercepted a pass. "We need to concentrate on what we need to do to get better. Just keep plugging along and that thing will take care of itself."
Carson Palmer threw one interception that thwarted a possible scoring chance for the Raiders (3-10) and lost a fumble that set up a touchdown for the Broncos as Oakland lost its sixth straight game. It is the team's longest skid since also losing six in a row in 2007.
The Raiders played the game with heavy hearts as coach Dennis Allen's father, Grady, died earlier in the week from cardiac arrest. Allen was away from the team for two days but returned Wednesday and coached the game.
"I took my father off life support (voice cracking), and that's not easy to do," Allen said. "So was it hard? Yeah, it was hard. But I know my father would want me to be here with this football team, and I wanted to be here with this football team. So I'm sure you guys can imagine it wasn't an easy situation."
The Raiders' players talked during the week about rallying around their first-year coach, but came out flat against a fierce division rival and were swept in the season series by the Broncos for the first time since 2006.
The game was mildly competitive for only a brief time as the Raiders got on the board late in the first half on a touchdown pass from Palmer to Darren McFadden and then started with the ball in the third quarter down 13-7.
McFadden, returning from a four-game absence for a sprained right ankle, broke off a 36-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, but the Raiders' drive stalled in Denver territory after that and the Broncos took the game over. McFadden later left the game after re-injuring the ankle.
Manning, who joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with 5,000 career completions, converted a third-and-11 with a perfectly placed 22-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. Manning followed that with a 29-yard completion to Eric Decker, but the drive stalled after a pass-interference call on Matt Giordano gave the Broncos a first down at the 1. Matt Prater's 20-yard field goal made it 16-7.
Mike Goodson then made the ill-advised decision to return a kick from 8 yards deep in the end zone, forcing Oakland to start a drive at the 8. Von Miller then beat Khalif Barnes for a sack on third down, stripping the ball from Palmer. Mitch Unrein recovered at the 2 and Moreno scored two plays later to make it 23-7.
Moreno is filling in for the injured Willis McGahee and is giving the Broncos the running game they will need to be successful in the post-season.
"That's something we haven't been good on the past couple of weeks including last week," Manning said. "To do that tonight I think we can build off of that."
The only remaining drama was whether quarterback project Terrelle Pryor would get his first action of the season for Oakland. He didn't, giving the frustrated Raiders fans yet another reason to be upset even though Palmer added a 56-yard TD pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey and finished with 273 yards passing.
"To rack up this many losses in a row in the fashion that we've done is just extremely frustrating," Palmer said.
The Raiders won the coin toss but decided to defer until the second half. The decision backfired as Manning converted three third downs on a 68-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard pass to Joel Dreessen that was Manning's 30th touchdown pass of the season.
Prater added two field goals after Broncos' drives stalled inside the Oakland 20 as Denver extended the lead to 13-0. The momentum shifted after Phillip Adams' intercepted an underthrown pass from Manning to Matthew Willis in the end zone.
Oakland responded with an 80-yard drive capped by a 6-yard screen pass to McFadden.
After the game police said a man fell from the upper deck at the stadium shortly before kickoff and was in serious condition at a hospital. Initial reports called the fall an accident, but police said it remained under investigation. The team had no comment.
NOTES: Raiders CB Michael Huff left in the first half with a wrist injury. ... Manning needed 221 games to reach 5,000 completions, 18 fewer than Favre. ... Miller has sacks in six straight games. ... WR Bubba Caldwell had his first catch as a Bronco.
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