HOUSTON - Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards and set an NFL record for touchdown passes with his 51st this season while leading the Denver Broncos to a 37-13 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
With his 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas at the 4:28 mark of the fourth quarter, Manning eclipsed the single-season mark of 50 set by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2007. Just two years removed from a series of neck surgeries that threatened to cut short his Hall of Fame career, Manning effusively praised those who helped him reach this milestone.
"I've put a lot of time and a lot of hard work into it but I've received a lot of help along the way from coaches and trainers and strength coaches and teammates," said Manning, who previously held the single-season TD mark with 49 in 2004. "I'm very grateful. When something like this happens it just reminds me even more of just how grateful and thankful I am for all the people that have helped me during this second chapter."
Combined with the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Broncos' victory clinched the AFC West crown. Denver (12-3) clung to a 16-13 lead before pulling away in the fourth quarter to send the Texans (2-13) to their 13th consecutive loss in their home finale.
With his 20-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Eric Decker with 6:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, Manning matched the single-season record of 50. Two minutes later he etched his name in the record book yet again.
"Brady will probably break it again next year if not the year after," said Manning, who will enter the season finale against the Oakland Raiders 266 yards shy of breaking Drew Brees' record of 5,476 yards set in 2011 with the Saints. "So we'll enjoy it for as long as it lasts. Hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back when somebody throws for more."
Denver might have immediate concerns on defense. Linebacker Von Miller left with a knee injury the team fears could be serious.
The Broncos labored in the first half, settling for three Matt Prater field goals - two after penetrating the red zone. The Texans followed by shutting down Manning in the third quarter, limiting Denver to just 38 yards and one first down on 14 plays while cutting into a 16-6 deficit.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, making his first start Oct. 13 against the St. Louis Rams, connected on a 15-yard touchdown to Keshawn Martin with 10:33 left in the third to pull Houston to within 16-13. But early in the fourth quarter, Schaub tossed an ill-advised sideline pass that was picked off by Broncos cornerback Mike Adams. Denver took over at the Houston 28-yard line and Manning was quick to convert.
"It looked like a combination (of factors) to me," Texans interim coach Wade Phillips said of the Schaub interception. "Obviously he scrambled a little bit with the ball. It was a young receiver (rookie DeAndre Hopkins) there. I think you have to make sure they don't get the ball.
"If you don't get it, they don't get it. It wasn't all Matt, I don't believe, on that play."
Two snaps after the turnover, Manning threw a 10-yard touchdown to Decker that extended the lead to 23-13 with 13:26 left. All that remained was the march toward the record. The drama ended quickly.
"Real excited to be around a guy that goes about his business like he does get rewarded with success," Denver coach John Fox said of Manning. "Very humble. He said the best news he heard was we won the AFC West for a third straight year."