|Date of game: 12/22/2013
Recap: Houston vs. Denver
Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning shook hands with teammates on the field. He pulled his helmet off and high-fived more on the sideline, then took a seat by himself on the bench.
Manning is alone on top of the NFL's single-season touchdown passes list, too.
The Broncos quarterback broke Tom Brady's league record for touchdown passes in a season with No. 51, throwing for four of them Sunday in a 37-13 win over the Houston Texans that clinched the AFC West for Denver.
Three of Manning's touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter -- two to Eric Decker and the record-breaker to tight end Julius Thomas in the front right corner of the end zone with 4:28 remaining.
Decker found the ball, tucked it inside his jersey and smuggled the keepsake to the sideline.
Manning smiled as he said the record will probably be "temporary."
"I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games, and there won't be an asterisk next to them," Manning said.
Then, with a smirk: "Brady will probably break it again next year. ... We'll enjoy it for as long as it lasts and hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back when somebody throws for more."
The personal accomplishment came with a team reward for the Broncos (12-3) who wrapped up the division title and a first-round bye with a little help from the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost at home to the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning's first touchdown pass to Decker came after Broncos safety Mike Adams dragged his feet inbounds for an interception that gave Manning a short field early in the fourth quarter when he needed it the most.
Manning had started the second half with six straight incompletions and the Broncos offense was sagging. But he hit Decker from 10 yards out two plays after Adams' pick and found Decker again from 20 yards on Denver's next drive for a 30-13 lead.
The record-breaker went to Thomas on a perfectly placed 25-yard throw by Manning after the tight end easily got behind linebacker Darryl Sharpton.
"I really feel like it's a team accomplishment, certainly an offense accomplishment," said Manning. "A lot of people played roles. ... A lot of receivers caught a lot of touchdowns and made a lot of special plays."
Manning had the single-season record of 49 -- set with the Colts in 2004 -- before Brady broke it with 50 touchdown passes for the New England Patriots in 2007. Randy Moss had an NFL-record 23 touchdown catches that year for the Patriots.
Manning was 32-of-51 against the Texans for 400 yards and no interceptions and went over 5,000 yards passing in a season for the first time in his career. He has passed for 5,211 yards this season.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter and didn't return but the Denver offense crackled with the exception of Manning's slow start in the second half.
Decker had 10 catches for 131 yards, Demaryius Thomas caught eight passes for 123 yards and a touchdown and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 76 yards on just 11 carries. Moreno reached a career-high 1,015 yards for the season.
The Texans (2-13) have lost 13 in a row and will end the season against the Tennessee Titans next week -- the last team they beat in Week 2.
Andre Johnson had four catches for 63 yards in the loss and joined Wes Welker as the only players in NFL history with five 100-catch seasons. Matt Schaub passed for 176 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
The Texans were within 16-13 after Schaub found Keshawn Martin in the back right corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown to cap their first drive of the second half.
Manning's six straight incomplete passes to start the second half came as the Broncos struggled to find any rhythm on offense. His first completion was a four-yard pass to Decker on 3rd-and-10.
"You really gotta get them into third downs," said interim Texans coach Wade Phillips. "I thought we played really well on third down. We just didn't get them into enough of them."
Later in the third, Manning was hit hard by Houston's J.J. Watt and driven into the ground on an incomplete pass on third down.
Its offense struggling, Denver needed a big play on defense -- and got one when Adams jumped in front of DeAndre Hopkins on the right sideline for his interception at the Houston 28-yard line.
"The play of the day," said Manning.
Moreno ran for 18 yards on first down and Manning hit Decker on the next play, giving the Broncos a 23-13 lead and Manning his 49th touchdown pass of the season.
"We had a close game and they made a play," said Schaub.
Manning's 50th touchdown pass was reviewed by officials after Decker, who got behind Kareem Jackson in the back left corner of the end zone, appeared to bobble the ball as he went out of bounds. The catch was upheld.
A 27-yard pass interference penalty set up Julius Thomas' touchdown.
Johnson entered the game with 99 catches and got his 100th on a 33-yard grab in the first quarter that led to Randy Bullock's 45-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.
Manning's first touchdown pass was a 36-yard bullet to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of the second quarter after the receiver beat Jackson with a double move, cutting toward the left sideline and then back inside.
Martin's 51-yard punt return later in the quarter set up Bullock's 35-yard field goal. But Matt Prater, who kicked a 32-yard field goal earlier, was good from 25 and 44 yards to give the Broncos a 16-6 lead at halftime.Game Notes
Broncos center Steve Vallos left the game with a concussion ... Drew Brees,
Dan Marino, Matthew Stafford and Brady are the only other NFl quarterbacks who
have thrown for 5,000 yards in a season ... Manning is the only player with at
least 45 touchdown passes in two seasons ... Moreno rushed for 947 yards as a
rookie in 2009 ... The Broncos are at Oakland next week to finish the regular