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Broncos beat Raiders 34-14 for top seed in AFC
By: Staff  Writer - AP
Published: 12/30/2013  at  3:06:15 AM
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - After a bumpy ride that featured season-ending injuries to a couple of star players and an illness that sidelined their coach, the Denver Broncos are back in the same spot they were a year ago thanks to Peyton Manning's record-setting performance.

Manning set the NFL single-season mark for yards passing and threw four first-half touchdown passes to clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs for the Broncos with a 34-14 victory over Oakland on Sunday that gave them a second straight 13-win season.

''It's not easy to go back-to-back 13-3s,'' said coach John Fox, who missed four weeks with an illness. ''It's not easy to go back-to-back 1 seeds. Obviously everybody in our building, our city, the region, maybe even the country, was disappointed at how we finished a year ago. Hopefully that's been a fire in the belly of most of everybody in our building since that last January.''

A 38-35 overtime loss to Baltimore in their playoff opener last season was the fifth home playoff defeat of Manning's career, more than any player.

But he heads into this postseason looking even sharper than he did a year ago after the win over the Raiders (4-12), even if Denver will be without left tackle Ryan Clady and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning threw touchdown passes to Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno in the first quarter and added two to Demaryius Thomas in the second. He broke Drew Brees' record of 5,476 yards set in 2011 with a 5-yard pass to Thomas with 13 seconds left in the half to make it 31-0.

That ended Manning's day after completing 25 of 28 passes for 266 yards. He finished the season with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes.

''This was a good game today,'' Manning said. ''We needed this win. We needed to improve on some things. The coaches challenged us in a couple of areas and I think we responded to those challenges.''

Here are five things to take away from the Broncos' win over the Raiders:

RESTING UP: The Broncos accomplished everything they needed to in the first half, getting Manning his record and home-field advantage for the team. That allowed Fox to give Manning and some other regulars the second half off.

''Our goal was to play as good an outing as we have to date this season,'' Fox said. ''The way it worked out, the first half was about as good in all three phases as we've been all year. It allowed us to get some guys out of the game and rest them.''

JOB STATUS: The Raiders head into the offseason with uncertainty after losing their final six games to finish 4-12 for the second straight season under coach Dennis Allen. He said he expects to meet this week with general manager Reggie McKenzie and owner Mark Davis to discuss the future and Allen believes he should be part of it after guiding Oakland through a two-year rebuilding project with few draft picks and little salary cap room.

''That's a decision that's made over my head,'' Allen said. ''I fully expect to be back. I fully believe that I deserve the opportunity to come back here and get a chance to go through the reconstruction phase. I want to be part of the rebuilding phase.''

RECORD SCORING: The Broncos set an NFL record as well by becoming the first team to score 600 points in a season. Denver broke the mark of 589 points set by New England in 2007 on Manning's 63-yard pass to Thomas. The Broncos finished with 606 points.

''I feel like it's a record every other week,'' Thomas said. ''It's great to be a part of, to get it. We just have to sit back and talk about it, but our main goal is to win the Super Bowl. It's a good accomplishment for our offense. The main thing now is being able to win.''

PRYOR'S RETURN: The decision to go back to Terrelle Pryor at starting quarterback after six games with Matt McGloin failed to provide the spark Allen had been seeking. Pryor looked rusty in his return to the lineup, missing receivers and having little room to run on read-option plays and scrambles. Pryor completed 21 of 38 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, with most of that coming after the game was out of reach. Pryor also ran for 49 yards to give him 576 yards rushing for the season, breaking Rich Gannon's franchise mark of 529 for quarterbacks set in 2000.

''I would say I'm inconsistent,'' Pryor said. ''Period. I've got to get better.''

SACK FOR SUB: Nate Irving made the most of his opportunity as a starter in place of Miller, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last week. Irving got his first career sack against Pryor in the first half and added another tackle for loss.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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