For three quarters, the Texans held the world’s best player and the NFL’s best offense in check.
And the Broncos were clinging to a three-point lead as Sunday’s game flipped fields for the final quarter.
Then the floodgates opened.
Through three quarters, the Texans’ defense gave up plenty of yards to Peyton Manning but held the Broncos to one offensive touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Manning threw three more touchdowns as the Broncos went on to win in a 37-13 blowout.
“We were shutting him down earlier,” Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said. “We had the turnover and they got the score and it took the life out of us. He’s an all-time Hall of Famer, the best quarterback out here and you have to give him credit.”
With the win, the Broncos improved to 12-3, while the Texans fell to 2-13, having lost 13 straight.
On his second play of the fourth quarter, Manning threw a 10-yard pass to Eric Decker for his second touchdown of the day.
Manning ended up throwing for exactly 400 yards and four touchdowns. His last of the afternoon set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season, topping Tom Brady’s mark of 50. The Broncos have now scored 572 points this season and have a chance to break the all-time record of 589 set by the 2007 Patriots.
On Sunday, Manning threw 51 times and hit eight different receivers. Two of his receivers – Decker and Demaryius Thomas – went over 100 yards for the game.
"He makes big plays, definitely," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "He's the best I've ever played against."
Manning was given a short field to start the fourth quarter after Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw a momentum-sucking interception on the Texans’ side of the field. After an 18-yard run from Knowshon Moreno, Manning threw the touchdown to Decker.
On the next Broncos’ possession, Manning marched his offense down the field 55 yards in eight plays in just over three minutes. The touchdown throw to cap that drive was the best ball of the afternoon. Decker didn’t have much separation but Manning delivered a perfect throw that dropped into his arms just in front of Kareem Jackson. That pass tied Brady’s record.
“What he’s really great at is recognizing defenses and checking to the appropriate play,” Reed said. “And you could see, he was doing that all day. He would look at the defense, make a check, change the play and give their offense the best chance to win.”
Manning finished the game looking like the guy who will assuredly win the NFL’s MVP award this season but he didn’t look like that guy all afternoon. In fact, for a while, the swarming Texans’ defense made Manning look mortal.
Manning and the Denver offense had three-and-outs on their first three possessions of the second half. In the third quarter, the Texans held the Broncos to 38 yards off offense. They had the momentum. Then came the Schaub interception.
Then came the Peyton Manning who looks like the best quarterback in the league, maybe all-time.
“We had a great gameplan and we were executing well and like I said, they were able to make big plays and we weren’t able to stop them from doing that,” Keo said. “We weren’t surprised but we weren’t able to stop them.”