(Reuters) - Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns and 305 yards as the ever-improving Denver Broncos smashed the visiting New Orleans Saints 34-14 on Sunday.
A red-hot Manning outclassed Drew Brees in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV, where New Orleans beat Manning’s former team Indianapolis.
It was no contest between the quarterbacks this time as Brees was limited to a season-low 213 yards and two scores while the Broncos amassed 530 yards of offence.
Under Manning’s leadership in his first season with Denver, the Broncos (4-3) are surging having won three of their last four to take a one-game lead in the AFC West Division.
“Our team has come far, we’re really maturing and hopefully we can keep it going,” Manning told reporters, after shaking off a minor first-half injury when he banged his right thumb on a defender’s helmet.
“It’s always kind of a quarterback’s biggest fear, is a hand on the helmet. It wasn’t too bad.”
With the defense swarming and the offence clicking, the home team seized a 17-7 halftime lead on the Saints (2-5) before punctuating the victory in the second half.
Manning finished a long second-half opening drive with a one-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas to make it 24-7 in the third quarter, with Eric Decker catching his second score of the game in the fourth.
Thomas had 137 yards receiving and Willis McGahee ran for 122 yards and a score to make it a complete offensive performance for Denver.
“Tonight they were trying to stop the run the whole game and we had some wide open lanes for receivers,” Thomas said. “(We) get better and better every week.”
For the Saints, it was the lowest point of what has already been a tumultuous season.
Joe Vitt returned from his six-game suspension for his role in the Saints bounty program last season and assumed his new post as interim head coach, but it did little to spark the team.
New Orleans had won two consecutive games to rebound from a 0-4 start but they scored a season-low total and suffered their first blowout defeat of the season.
Brees tossed a score in the second quarter and another in the closing minutes while the Saints defense continued their struggles.
Opposing teams are averaging more than 30 points against New Orleans who are near the bottom of the NFC South.
“I’ve got to do a better job of preparing our football team,” Vitt said. “Quite frankly, there’s things I need to do better.”
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles. Editing by Patrick Johnston