DENVER -- In a quarterback battle between Peyton Manning and Terrelle Pryor, there is no suspense. We all know who is going to win. It's just a matter of how much damage is done by night's end.

Monday, the damage on the scoreboard was about what you'd expect. Manning and his Denver Broncos blew out to a 30-7 lead and went on to finish off the Raiders 37-21.

In terms of the quarterback matchup, Pryor also took the expected back seat to Manning. But in a slight surprise, the back seat was not as far to the rear as, say, the back seat of a jumbo jet. It was more like the back seat of an airport shuttle bus.

 Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Oakland Raiders is sacked by Robert Ayers #91 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Oakland Raiders is sacked by Robert Ayers #91 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 23, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Doug Pensinger, Getty)

Which at this stage of Pryor's young career, is saying something. He was making just his fourth NFL start Monday. He isn't close to being in the neighborhood of the NFL's top tier quarterbacks. Yet week by week, snap by snap, the kid is showing that he's not completely in the next area code. His upside still has upside. He was easily the most optimistic Raider element in Monday's game.

"The big stage doesn't bother him," said Denarius Moore, who caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Pryor that briefly pulled the Raiders to within 10 points of the Broncos in the first half. "It's like he has been a starting quarterback for five years now."

Alas, Pryor now might not even be the starting quarterback next week because his night ended with a wince-inducing concussion. It happened in the fourth quarter when he was carrying the ball on a called quarterback run inside the Broncos' 8-yard line.

As Pryor turned toward the line of scrimmage behind the right side of the Raiders line, Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard initiated a collision that was pretty much helmet-on-helmet. Pryor rose to his feet and stayed on the field for two more plays, including one complete pass, then went to the locker room with five minutes remaining in the game for a medical exam.

Afterward, Raiders coach Dennis Allen confirmed Pryor's concussion. Following protocol, that meant the quarterback was not available for postgame interviews. However, Pryor was spotted in the locker room fully dressed and ready to roll his own bag to the team plane. Pryor nodded a greeting and, when someone asked how he was feeling, said: "Good."

No way to know if "good" means good enough to start next Sunday against Washington in Oakland, or good enough to be back in two or three weeks. Asked about Pryor's availability against the Redskins, Allen said: "I have no idea."

Which was the proper answer. But whether Pryor returns soon or in October, he remains the Raiders' quarterback of the future until further notice. Monday, he made the usual inexperience-related mistakes. As Manning was putting on a clinic, Pryor was doing an internship. Weirdly, he has trouble throwing touch passes as he rolls to his right, usually a money throw for a right-handed quarterback.

Yet several times Monday, Pryor connected on timing patterns to the outside. And his overall statistical line -- 19 completions in 28 attempts for 281 yards with a touchdown and a 112.4 passer rating -- was easily the best of his young career. And it was under tough, noisy Mile High conditions.

"I thought he was a little hot and cold," Allen said of Pryor. "I thought as the game wore on, he executed a little more and made a few plays."

Some of Pryor's most impressive plays didn't show up on the score sheet. In the third quarter at his own 17-yard line, a center snap flew wildly over Pryor's head and the ball skittered into the end zone behind him. He was steady enough under pressure to pick up the ball and roll left to hurl it downfield along the out of bounds barrier for an incomplete pass. The Raiders could safely punt the ball away.

Also on Monday, Pryor showed more patience in the pocket and didn't seem as eager to take off with his swift feet. Given the way he was injured in the final period, that's also a positive. Allen said he "couldn't tell" whether Woodyard's hit was legal. He pointed out that since the collision took place within the tackle box and that Pryor was clearly a ball carrier, it might not have qualified for a penalty, anyway.

"I don't think we went backwards tonight," center Stefen Wisniewski said. "But we certainly didn't go forward. We've got to play better than that."

As soon as Pryor returns, he should give them that chance. A year ago, with veteran Carson Palmer at quarterback, the Raiders didn't score a touchdown against the Broncos. This was an improvement over that, wasn't it?

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.