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 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 extended 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 the offense.
"That was a very poor performance on our part," Brees said. "We were not able to sustain drives and we left our defense out there entirely too long. That was just very stale."
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."
Broncos 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.