By Steve Keating
OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - The surging Denver Broncos pounded the Oakland Raiders 26-13 on Thursday, stretching their winning streak to eight games as Peyton Manning reached another career passing milestone.
Having already clinched the AFC West crown and established their credentials as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Broncos arrived in Oakland with their sights set on securing a first round playoff bye.
They took a step towards that goal by improving their record to 10-3 to keep the pressure on conference rivals the Baltimore Ravens (9-3) and New England Patriots (9-3).
"If you get better each week you kind of hope that certain things will follow and we need to use this week to get better from playing a good Baltimore team, playing at their place," Manning told reporters, looking ahead to next week's game with the Ravens that could decide which team wins the bye.
"I haven't played there as a Bronco but I've played there tons before and I know how tough it is to play.
"Baltimore's been good since I've been in the NFL so I think it will be a good test for us."
Manning was ruthlessly effective at the controls of the Denver offence, completing 26 of 36 passes for 310 yards, including his 30th touchdown of the season.
Among Manning's completions was a second quarter pass to Jacob Tamme which allowed him to reach another milestone in his Hall of Fame career, joining Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to complete 5,000 passes.
The Broncos came out looking like a team on mission scoring on their opening three possessions, Manning finding Joel Dreessen alone in the end zone for a six-yard strike followed by 43 and 34-yard Matt Prater field goals.
Manning moved Denver deep into Raiders territory again on their fourth possession but was intercepted by a diving Philip Adams in the end zone giving a thin Thursday night crowd their first reason to cheer.
The Raiders made Manning pay for his miscue, Carson Palmer marching Oakland 80-yards and capping the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Darren McFadden, who was back in the Oakland lineup after missing four weeks with an injured ankle.
The Broncos were on the move again quickly in the second half, taking the ball down to the Raiders one yard line with the help of a pass interference penalty, but they could not push it across and settled instead for a 20-yard Prater chip shot.
But it would not be long before the Broncos were back in Oakland end zone, Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 119 yards, converting Palmer's goal line fumble into a one-yard touchdown and a 23-7 lead.
With 19 seconds left in the third, Prater booted his fourth field goal of the night before Palmer would connect with Darrius Heyward-Bey on a 56-yard consolation touchdown to close out the scoring.
While the Broncos are making playoff plans, the Raiders are about to complete a decade of post-season failure.
The once proud franchise that lived by owner Al Davis's proclamation "Just win baby", the Raiders have done very little of it this season, their record falling to 3-10 with their sixth straight loss.
"That team we played tonight is obviously a great football team, they are led by a Hall of Fame quarterback, said Raiders coach Dennis Allen.
"The Denver Broncos were better than we were tonight but I thought our guys fought and that's what I want to see the remaining three games of season."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)