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Sunday night wrap-up: Manning, Broncos roll Saints

New Orleans Saints v Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls an audible during the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on October 28, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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His arm might not be full strength yet.

And then he whacked his right thumb on a helmet just before halftime, leaving a small trail of blood on his throwing hand.

Boy, if Peyton Manning ever gets well, some people are going to be in trouble.

Manning was a sharp 22-of-30 for 305 yards and three touchdowns in the Broncos’ 34-14 win over the Saints Sunday night. It was the best indication to date he’s all the quarterback the Broncos need to be contenders if not the favorites in the AFC. (Watch highlights here.)

With an offense that’s beginning to click and a schedule that softens as it goes, the Broncos are in excellent position to make a run.

That he doesn’t look like the Manning of five years ago with the Colts matters not at all. He’s looking comfortable running this offense, which is the important one at the moment, as no one in the AFC looks any better than the Broncos looked dismantling the Saints.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Putting Chase Daniel in a Drew Brees outfit for Halloween was a bad idea for the Saints.

Oh, wait, that was really Brees?

Anyone who thinks the Saints star quarterback doesn’t miss Sean Payton this year is kidding themselves.

Brees completed just 22-of-42 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and the Saints offense lacked any degree of flow whatsoever.

They’ve got an odd lot of running backs they can’t seem to figure out how to maximize, but they’ve always been able to pass around that. Even with tight end Jimmy Graham back on the field, they looked disjointed.

Sure sign of ridiculousness: The Saints were well under 5.0 yards per pass attempt for the pertinent part of the evening, and part of that is on Brees himself.

Payton may not have been able to have the Saints 5-2 instead of their current 2-5, but he’d make a significant difference in the way they’re playing, and would have Brees looking more like Brees.

2. It’s easy, and appropriate, to spend a lot of time on Manning when the Broncos are on.

But running back Willis McGahee remains the engine of that offense.

As long as John Fox is the coach (and the underappreciated Mike McCoy the offensive coordinator), they’re never going to get too far from the run game. And though it’s easy to overlook, the Broncos called 38 run plays and 30 passes when Manning was on the field Sunday, which is not accidental.

They want to incorporate Ronnie Hillman into things, to take advantage of his explosive speed. But McGahee (23 carries for 122 yards) is still getting it done at a high level.

3. The Saints got an emotional boost from the return of linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

And though he moved back into the starting lineup Sunday night, one thing that was growing more and more evident last year was that Vilma’s play was dropping off.

Acquiring Curtis Lofton was not unrelated to the bounty related uncertainty over Vilma’s future, but it was also a reflection of Vilma’s declining play.

There were moments against the Broncos when Vilma looked out of place, and while he’s coming in cold, and changing positions, the reality is he’s not an impact player anymore.

4. With the way things went down in Jacksonville, I’m not sure Jack Del Rio will get a head coaching gig again soon.

But as a defensive coordinator, he and Fox work very well together. In Carolina in 2002, they helped create a six-game bounce in one season by playing dominant defense.

They’re approaching that now.

The Broncos have an interesting group of players on that side, and Del Rio was willing to move his personnel around, putting Von Miller in spots he hadn’t been to create pressure.

Along with the improved Wesley Woodyard, they’re getting better-than-expected play from their front seven, and Del Rio has a hand in that by putting them in the right places.

5. The Saints lack the personnel up front to play defense the way defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wants to play.

But while the talent on the edges is deficient, the Saints appear to have at least one promising interior player on their hands in rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

The third-rounder from Canada’s University of Regina has the kind of strength and burst the Saints were lacking inside.

If you can push the pocket from the middle, that’s the shortest distance between two points, and it also makes it easier for ordinary players on the edges.