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2013 NFL Grades, Week 3: Peyton Manning's getting better somehow

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Peyton Manning appears to be getting better somehow.
Peyton Manning has 12 touchdown passes through three games, an NFL record. (USATSI)

Peyton Manning is good. That's non-breaking news, of course, but you know what is shocking? Manning's getting better as he ages. Less than two years from being in football limbo because of his age and his health, Manning just set the NFL record for most touchdowns through three games.

Another elderly quarterback -- Tom Brady -- threw 11 touchdowns in his first three games of 2011. And with another three TDs against Oakland in a 37-21 throttling on Monday night, Peyton set the record with 12 touchdowns in his first three games. Remarkably, he still hasn't thrown an interception.

Manning was a surgeon against the Raiders, diagnosing an overwhelmed Oakland defense throughout the first half and putting passes in places where only his receivers could catch them.

Half the time Manning's passes were his signature power-ducks, wobbly floaters of passes that end up in remarkably perfect position. Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker combined for 25 catches and 311 yards. So much for not having enough balls to go around.

What makes Manning so dangerous in his second season with the Broncos isn't just his weapons. It's his familiarity as well and the "swagger" and "confidence" he brings to the team as they take the field.

"I think a swagger," Decker said when asked what Peyton brings to the Broncos. "That confidence, [so we] go out there and we're going to play our best football every game. For example, he's made me such a better pro. Watching film, understanding coverages and just breaking it down that way has made me a better football player."

It's probably too early to suggest what sort of numbers Manning could put up this season. We're just three games in. But he's putting up historical digits thus far in Denver and doing it in all kinds of different ways through the air.

"I think the biggest difference is just the pace, the tempo," Decker said. "We're able to go slow and we're able to go fast. We went clubs -- is our formation when we have three tight ends in there. We can three wide receivers. And if you can move the ball with all those different formations it really helps you to be successful."

Manning's been successful all right. He's currently on pace for 6,096 passing yards and 64 touchdowns this season while completing 72.9 percent of his passes. That's pretty good. That he's doing it as he approaches 38 years old is flat-out amazing.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Broncos 37, Raiders 21
B-Is this too high of a grade for a team that never stood a chance? Oakland at least tried hard and kept it competitive (with the gigantic 15.5-point spread). Terrelle Pryor flashed some even more impressive passing skills and athletic ability in prime time.
AJust another day in the life of Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback was a gravy-drunk butcher at Thanksgiving getting loose with a knife. No one was beating Manning on this night, not with his weapons doing the damage they did.
Dolphins 27, Falcons 23
B-Tough loss considering the Falcons had this game in hand, especially with all the injuries they had. Matt Ryan's been pretty spectacular this year and once again carried his team. Atlanta's defense couldn't keep the Dolphins down at the end of either half and the offense missed several big chances.
B+Two touchdowns (and one pick) for Ryan Tannehill in an efficient effort. He really looks like he belongs with the rest of the sophomores. The running game could be a little better and the defense wasn't perfect but the Fins are 3-0 now and that's really all that matters. Definite playoff contender.
Bears 40, Steelers 23
B+Jay Cutler continues to look really good in Marc Trestman's offense and Matt Forte continues to be a dynamic weapon. Surprise, surprise: the Bears keep generating turnovers and turning them into touchdowns.
D-What is happening with this team? Ben Roethlisberger looked lost for most of the night and only got hot for the middle stretch of this game. The biggest concern is the defense, which still doesn't have a turnover this year. Might be a lost season.
Jets 27, Bills 20
CEJ Manuel was well under a 50 percent completion rate this week. C.J. Spiller really struggled and eventually suffered an injury. That secondary needs Stephon Gilmore back in the worst way. Justin Rogers was routinely torched Sunday.
BDoes 2-1 mean Rex Ryan is going to start getting his swagger back? I hope so. They were penalty-heavy on Sunday but the Jets defense is for real, especially up front. Don't rush back, Mark Sanchez. Geno Smith's got this. Getting Santonio Holmes back helps.
Seahawks 45, Jaguars 17
D-The Jaguars scored more than one touchdown this week! But they didn't cover and they were manhandled all around in this full-service beatdown.
A-The Seahawks probably deserve an "A" based on the score and their production but I'm grading on an opponent scale here. I guess they weren't perfect or something.
Colts 27, 49ers 7
AFew teams roll into Candlestick Park and hammer the 49ers, and no one does it after a loss. But Andrew Luck -- Jim Harbaugh's old protege -- and the Colts did just that. Indy's defense smothered Colin Kaepernick all day long and limited the 49ers on offense. Luck was efficient and both Ahmad Bradshaw/Trent Richardson scored touchdowns.
FHorrible bounceback game for the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick struggled but to be fair he was missing Vernon Davis on Sunday. The bigger red flag is the 49ers defense, which has now given up more than 20 points in all three games.
Ravens 30, Texans 9
D-A real stinker of a game for Houston in just about every respect. The Texans couldn't get going on offense, they coughed up 31 points, they gave up a kickoff return for a TD, Matt Schaub threw a pick six and Houston generally looked awful all day long.
A-Not a world-beating effort from their offense but kind of nice to see -- on a day where Ray Lewis was honored at halftime -- how good this 2013 Ravens defense can be. They completely snuffed out the Texans to the tune of just three Randy Bullock field goals. Arian Foster and Matt Schaub were non-factors Sunday.
Lions 27, Redskins 20
B+For the first time in the history of the Lions franchise they won in Washington. (D.C. really hates Detroit, apparently.) Not a masterful game for Detroit's offense but Joique Bell was good in relief of Reggie Bush, Matthew Stafford was strong down the stretch and Calvin Johnson was Calvin Johnson.
CSome nice things to take from this Redskins game, including improvements from Robert Griffin III and Washington actually being, you know, competitive. Alfred Morris ran the ball fairly well. Once again it was Washington having no semblance of a defense that really hurt them, even if DeAngelo Hall had another defensive TD.
Titans 20, Chargers 17
B-Tough road loss for the Bolts after holding a 17-10 fourth-quarter lead. You can't let Jake Locker march down the field on you for a game-winning drive. Locker actually carved up the secondary, and that's never a good sign. The offense, at least, was impressive for the third straight game. Philip Rivers appears to be in a full-blown bounceback season.
BThree quarters of struggles were erased by a huge final stretch in which the Titans scored 10 points and secured the win. Jake Locker storming down the field on a game-winning drive was stunning. The defense didn't give up a ton of yardage but they didn't get a lot of pressure on Rivers, either.
Saints 31, Cardinals 7
C-Tough spot for the Cardinals: playing in New Orleans is never easy. Really weak passing production out of Carson Palmer/Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd on Sunday, though. The defense got shredded but did a good job pressuring the Saints at least.
B+Jimmy Graham continues to be a complete difference-maker at tight end. Drew Brees is dominant as usual but more efficient in 2013 with Sean Payton back. It's great to see Rob Ryan getting actual defensive production (four more sacks, two interceptions Sunday) out of that unit. The running game is still a concern.
Patriots 23, Buccaneers 3
DWoof. Rumors were Mike Glennon was warming up on the sideline and with Josh Freeman going 19-for-41 I'm surprised he didn't hit the field. Doug Martin went over 100 yards total. The defense got some pressure (three sacks) and one pick (Mark Barron, in the end zone) but this game won't do much to quell the drama in Tampa Bay. Have fun this week, Greg Schiano.
B+It hasn't been particularly pretty for the Patriots thus far in 2013 but after finally landing an easy win they're 3-0 and remain in pole position in the AFC East. Most importantly they've done it without Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola. Impressive to see Kenbrell Thompkins step up in a big way Sunday.
Browns 31, Vikings 27
A-This wasn't an "A" because, well, it wasn't a dominant performance. But kudos to the Browns for sticking it in anyone's face that said they were tanking. Brian Hoyer threw for 302 yards (!) and three touchdowns (though he threw three picks as well) and Josh Gordon cranked up his trade value big time with a huge game. The defense stepped up when needed and sacked Ponder five times.
FEven though Minnesota had a chance to win, you can't give a team anything other than an "F" when they lose to Cleveland's backups at home. Adrian Peterson isn't running for a ton of yardage. Christian Ponder had two rushing touchdowns but also a pick and a lost fumble.
Panthers 38, Giants 0
FPeople are calling for Tom Coughlin's seat to heat up after this debacle got New York to 0-3. Eli Manning turned the ball over (again), David Wilson didn't run well (again) and the defense was a sieve (again). Newspaper-watching should be fun on Monday morning.
A+Where did that come from? The Panthers put an unlikely whooping on Dave Gettleman's old team as his group of "hog mollies" lobbed up a seven-sack game. Cam Newton finally broke out, tying a career high with four touchdowns. Greg Hardy might be back on track for 50 sacks after his explosion Sunday.
Bengals 34, Packers 30
C+Brutal loss in a wild and wacky game. Johnathan Franklin looked the latest great Packers running back until he fumbled ... and the Bengals took it to the house for the win. Aaron Rodgers was far from great in this game and the defense couldn't take advantage of Cincy's mistakes. Good job limiting A.J. Green.
B-Not sure the Bengals deserved a win but they'll take it. After a great start they gave up 30 unanswered points but rallied to win anyway. Andy Dalton was pretty efficient in this game and though the running game didn't get going, Giovani Bernard had a nice all-around effort. Any time you can keep Aaron Rodgers from blowing up, it's a very good thing.
Cowboys 31, Rams 7
F"F" is also for "fraud," which is what the Rams look like right now. Sam Bradford's only putting up numbers in garbage time, their running game is non-existent and a theoretically tough defense did no damage against the Cowboys on Sunday. A second straight hammering of St. Louis by a superior NFC opponent.
AAbsolute beatdown for the NFC East's first non-division win. Tony Romo lit up a Rams secondary that's been embarrassed the last couple of weeks, while DeMarco Murray ran for 175 yards. Decent day. Six sacks for Monte Kiffin's defense as well.

THURSDAY

TeamGradeAnalysis
Chiefs 26, Eagles 16
C+The offense has major question marks. Alex Smith is a game manager and everyone's proud of that, but let's not get too excited. This was a defensive effort that carried things for the Chiefs and Justin Houston deserves an A+ for his performance. Smith was much better in the second half but a strong effort from this offense would've buried the Eagles early.
DAll-around poor performance for the Eagles. LeSean McCoy, who ran for 158 yards and a long touchdown that briefly brought the game back within reach, was the lone bright spot for this team. Michael Vick looked like he regressed, the defense can't tackle (and gave up 141 receiving yards to Donnie Avery!). Sixteen points at home on primetime is a major concern for an team based on offense.
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