But the Raider defense put the heat on Elway, sacking him five times for 39 yards in losses and intercepting two passes in a 14-9 victory over the Broncos at the Coliseum.
Suffering from heat prostration, Elway nearly passed out after the game, and Bronco trainer Steve Antonopulos inserted an intravenous saline solution into Elway to rehydrate him. Antonopulos said Elway would recover.
The Broncos hope Elway will recover his passing touch, too.
Although he threw over and behind his own receivers, Elway threw a pass over Denver running back Steve Sewell and into the hands of Raider linebacker Jerry Robinson, who returned it five yards for a touchdown.
"I don't know what the problem was," said Bronco wide receiver Mark Jackson who caught seven passes for 121 yards. "It was certainly unexpected, considering the preseason he had. But the offensive line was beat up, and they didn't get a chance to practice together, and we threw them into battle and it was a tough battle."
Picking up where he left off in the Broncos' 55-10 Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers last January, Elway misfired on seven consecutive passes during one stretch. After completing three of 15 passes for 39 yards in the first half, Elway wound up completing only 14 of 31 passes for 151 yards.
"John didn't have a good day," Denver Coach Dan Reeves said. "Offensively we didn't have a good day. When you don't do the job offensively, it's the whole group. You don't point fingers at one person."
Reportedly in the best shape of his career after spending the off-season lifting weights, Elway was forced to leave the game with 9:13 remaining in the game after suffering heat prostration.
"John got light headed and dizzy and we had to take him out," Reeves said. "I don't know why and he doesn't know why because he probably does more running after practice than anybody. But the heat did have some effect on him. He had to run an awful lot to get away from the rush and try and make some things happen."
Backup quarterback Gary Kubiak was stunned by Elway's sudden departure.
"It's kind of a mystery to me," Kubiak said. "I know he's in shape. Me and John run every week, whether (Reeves) runs us or not. So I know he's in shape."
After sitting on the bench covered in wet towels, Elway returned for the Broncos' final drive with 1:43 remaining. But he couldn't move the Broncos as Raider defensive end Greg Townsend sacked him for a seven-yard loss and Howie Long followed with an eight-yard sack.
Townsend said harassing Elway was the Raider game plan.
"Elway was the focal point of their offense, and we knew we had to get to him," Townsend said. "And we did. We put some heat on him."
Although he appeared fit walking off the field, Elway nearly collapsed in the locker room and was taken to the training room for treatment along with running back Bobby Humphrey, who was also suffering from heat prostration.
Because he was being rehydrated, Elway never met the media to dissect his awful performance.
Was this just a ploy?
"He passed out in there," Bronco defensive coordinator Wade Phillips angrily told a reporter. "I'd like to see you running out there for three hours."
Elway was able to walk into and out of the shower under his own power and managed to comb his hair without assistance, but he wouldn't discuss the game.
Elway was surrounded by security guards as he walked from the Coliseum locker room.
After using a ball-control passing offense in the exhibition season, during which Elway completed 70.8% of his passes, the Broncos abandoned their short passing game against the Raiders. Because they were unable to run against the Raiders, the Broncos had to revamp their offense and throw out the short passing plays.
"I think the Raiders are that good," Reeves said after seeing his team held to 196 yards in total offense. "They've been playing well in the preseason. The main thing was they stopped our running game. They kept us from running the ball and kept us in a passing situation, which is not a good situation to be in against a team like the Raiders because they have a great rush. They rush the passer as well as anyone we've seen."