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Upon Further Review: Broncos at Raiders

Posted Dec 31, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason breaks down Peyton Manning's record-setting performance in the Broncos' 34-14 win over the Raiders in the regular-season finale.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The record books will record the 5-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas as the one that provided Manning's final yardage and touchdown total for his 2013 season, one that was unlike any other in NFL history.

It was that touchdown about which Thomas was quizzed after the game. It was the football with which that touchdown was scored that was saved.

But it was the score that preceded it -- the 63-yard strike to Thomas -- that showed more about the offense and how the realized threat of the deep pass in the second half of the season helps take it to a higher level as the postseason arrives.

It also shows one of the aspects that makes Manning so uniquely successful: the ability to use his eyes and face to draw a defense in one direction, then cross it up by going in the other. 

Manning spent most of the play looking to his left, where Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas were bunched at the snap. He even pointed in that direction as the offense set up for the snap. Until Manning throws, everything he does is to his left.

Then, with a pass rush kept at bay by his blockers, he made a slight turn and threw down the middle to the only target lined up outside and to the right: Demaryius Thomas, who by then had already beaten Phillip Adams on a post route. 

Safety Brandian Ross as playing deeper than fellow safety Charles Woodson, who was in zone coverage at just inside the 50-yard-line. Woodson was monitoring the receivers coming from the left side on their intermediate routes; this left the deep responsibility to Ross, who watched Manning and looked in the same direction as he did.

Then Manning looks down the middle and fires. Ross tries to recover and changes direction at the Denver 40-yard-line, but by this time, Thomas is in full stride and has a step on Adams. Ross is slow to arrive, and Thomas easily grabs the pass.

And then there is the pass: 46 yards through the air, placed in the perfect spot for Thomas to catch it in perfect stride, from which he could easily outrun two Raiders defenders to the end zone. It was so perfect, it seemed as though it was out of a video game played at the rookie level.

The wide receiver, who capped another stellar season with his two touchdowns Sunday, said that the football with which he scored his final touchdown of 2013 was headed to Manning, to commemorate his yardage record. But the football with which he scored from 63 yards away is headed for a destination equally special -- that of a Broncos fan who had braved the hostile crowd to watch the game in Oakland's notorious "Black Hole."

"He was sitting by himself in his orange with all black around him, so I felt like he deserved it," Thomas said.

That fan now has a souvenir of the Broncos offense offering another reminder to the Chiefs, Colts or Chargers that the deep pass is alive, quite well, and demands the attention of both safeties, which could open up avenues underneath, which further helps the Broncos offense as it looks to improve on its regular-season form.