OAKLAND -- Peyton Manning didn't want to complain. But he did.
These Thursday night games are tough," Manning said, "especially late in the year. I know I'm tired."
Tired of beating the Raiders, maybe. Otherwise, it was hard to tell.
Manning came to town Thursday. He wanted to play some pitch and catch. He did. Manning also wanted to complete the 5,000th pass of his career. He did. And he wanted to lead his Denver Broncos team to a victory over the Raiders. He did, 26-13.
The Raiders wanted to stop Manning from doing all those things. They didn't.
"He's a great quarterback, calling the right plays for the right situations -- and that's still not an excuse," said Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler, clearly unaware of Manning's weariness.
The Raiders also wanted to make a game of what was expected to be a mismatch. For a while, they did. Then they didn't.
"Our consistency," said head coach Dennis Allen, "has not been where it needs to be. There's times where we do some really good things. There's other times where we compound mistakes. We have to do a better job."
To tell the truth, it's hard to tell exactly what any of us should take away from a night out with the Raiders during this last month of a season that became semi-officially irrelevant maybe a month ago.
What you would like to see, though, is the team improve in at least one specific area, or see an indication that their first-year head coach has the ability to fix a certain part of the machinery that has gone off-kilter. Anything to give belief that the team will be heading in a plus direction for 2013.
Thursday night, belief was not on palpable display. To be sure, Manning hardly racked up eye-popping numbers. It was just his routine 26-for-36, 310-yard night. Four of the Broncos' offensive drives ended in field goals rather than touchdowns, which might have frustrated Denver followers. But as mentioned, he did complete his milestone 5,000th career pass near the end of the first half. And there was definitely the impression that if Manning truly needed to do so, he could complete a pass wherever he wanted and whenever he needed.
"We didn't do a good enough job of getting off the field on third down," agreed Allen.
And what about offensively? There were a few moments of lively offense. There was one very good play-call from offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on a first half touchdown misdirection screen pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to running back Darren McFadden. It wasn't much on which to hang a happy Raider hat. But it was something.
And believe it or not, Palmer finished the evening with a better quarterback rating (101.1) than Manning (95.8), because Palmer threw a second touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. But too many drives ended with this sound: Pfffffffft.
Palmer also committed the game-deciding turnover with 5:50 left in the third quarter when the Raiders were still trailing by just 16-7. Palmer had been doing just enough to raise hope that the game might be decided in the fourth quarter. But then he dropped back and was sacked at his own 3-yard line by Broncos linebacker Von Miller -- and lost the ball in mid-sack. Denver defensive lineman Mitch Unrein recovered.
Two plays later, Denver had scored a touchdown to make the score 23-7.
"That was kind of where the momentum of the game kind of turned around," Allen agreed.
"The guy got a good pass rush," Palmer said, "and being in that situation, backed up like that, I've got to throw the ball out of bounds. I didn't have the guy open that I wanted to throw it to, and I tried to pull the ball back and throw it to another guy. Looking back on it now, I wish that I would've just chucked it out of bounds."
By the fourth quarter, Allen was reduced to staring at his (presumably defensive) play chart as if it were a menu for postgame Chinese food -- or perhaps movie showtimes. More likely, his mind was a fog.
Allen has had a horrible week. He flew to Texas and watched his dad be taken off life support following a heart attack. Allen said in his postgame press session that it was "not easy to do" but also said his father would have wanted him to coach Thursday night. Even so, Allen could not have been involved in too much game planning or strategy. He could not have been 100 percent into all things football.
Asked what he expected to see from the Raiders the month of December, Allen answered: "I thought our guys fought tonight and that's what I want to see the remaining three games of the year."
And if he doesn't see it? Would his job be in jeopardy? That seems impossible, after just 13 games as an NFL coach. Also, anyone with a humane bone in his body would have to give Allen some leeway after his personal tragedy. But we don't know enough yet about new owner Mark Davis to forecast how impulsive he might be.
Most likely, Davis will leave the call up to general manager Reggie McKenzie, who was hired last winter. And it's hard to imagine that McKenzie would abandon a coach he hired — Allen -- so prematurely unless he was flat-out ordered to do so. Clearly, the roster that McKenzie and Allen have today is not the roster they want to have next year. But it would still be good to see a flicker of ... well, upbeat-ness. Is that a word?
"Each week is something different," Palmer said at his locker. "This team desperately needs a win ... I wouldn't just say that we're on the cusp of it. I wouldn't say it's really close."
Only three more chances against three seemingly beatable teams: Kansas City, Carolina and San Diego. The Raiders need to find a cusp quickly. Mostly, they need to stop not doing it.