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“They told me before the game they would keep me free to make plays,” Woodyard said.

Manning capitalized on Woodyard’s pick by leading Denver on a 56-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown, capped on a 13-yard pass to Eric Decker, who was all alone when Jabari Greer slipped. Decker celebrated by spiking the ball a good 10 rows into the stands.

A bit later, Manning followed through into a New Orleans player’s helmet while completing a 23-yard pass to Decker, leaving a trace of blood across the quarterback’s thumb. Manning handed off the next four plays and the Broncos settled for a field goal before halftime. But when Manning returned for the third quarter, he warmed up with no trouble and showed no signs of injury.

He then answered any questions by going 4 for 4 to start the third quarter, moving the Broncos 93 yards and capping it with a 1-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a 24-7 lead.

“I was really nervous at first but then I realized what a tough guy he is,” Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley said about Manning’s injury.

Thomas finished with seven catches for 137 yards. Decker also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for a 31-7 lead. He finished with 43 yards receiving.

Denver’s first scoring drive opened at the 2 and began with four straight runs by McGahee for gains of 4, 12, 7 and 3. That set up play action and Manning hit Thomas for 41 yards. Five plays later, Manning dropped back, peaked through the crowded line and somehow picked out McGahee among all the big men clogging things up. That little flip screen was good for 14 yards and set up McGahee’s 1-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.

After getting through the toughest part of their schedule and reaching the bye week at 3-3, the Broncos have only one opponent on the rest of the schedule that currently has a winning record (Baltimore). Too early to call them front-runners, though they certainly played like it against one of the league’s most beleaguered teams.

“I’m sure the coaches will find some mistakes on the film,” Manning said. “But it was what we were looking for.”

NOTES: The Broncos lost a fumble in their 12th straight game, the longest streak in the NFL since the Cardinals lost 18 straight in 1996-97. … Saints S Roman Harper left in the third quarter with a concussion. … Manningthrew for 300 yards, three touchdowns and completed 70 percent of his passes for a record fourth straight game. … The lead blocker on McGahee’s 1-yard touchdown was DT Mitch Unrein. … The Saints fell to 2-8 lifetime against the Broncos.