DENVER (AP)—Rod Smith caught the history-making touchdown, turned to the stands and handed the ball to his sister. For the hard-working Broncos receiver, that was about as big as the celebration would get.
Smith became Denver’s career leader in both receptions and touchdown catches Sunday and Jake Plummer threw for four scores to help the Broncos snap a two-game losing streak with a 31-13 victory over the Houston Texans.
“It’s a privilege to be on the same field as that guy,” Plummer said of Smith, a 10-year veteran who started out as an undrafted rookie and spent his first year on Denver’s practice squad.
Smith, a man of few words who held a rare news conference after his landmark game, insisted the win was more important to him than the records, and maybe he was right.
The Broncos (6-3) stayed tied with San Diego for the AFC West lead and, more importantly, they avoided heading into their bye next week on a three-game losing streak.
“We knew we definitely can’t go into the bye week with that hanging over our head,” Smith said. “You will not enjoy it.”
Houston (4-4), meanwhile, was hoping for the first three-game winning streak in franchise history and a taste of first place in the AFC South. Instead, the Texans got overmatched and outplayed, falling behind big before halftime and committing a team-record 109 yards in penalties.
“Every man is going to step up and take full responsibility,” Texans coach Dom Capers said. “We didn’t do a good enough job coaching and we didn’t do a good enough job playing.”
Plummer added this four-touchdown game to one from last week. But in that game, a 41-28 loss to Atlanta, his TDs were more than offset by his three interceptions.
Smith was clearly distraught that day—avoiding autograph seekers for one of the rare times and skulking out of the locker room even though he set a career high with 208 yards receiving and caught an 80-yard touchdown.
“That was out of character for me,” Smith said. “I had some problems I had to work out that day, and I wanted to get out of there.”
On this day, though, the records were more significant and easier to enjoy.
In the first quarter, Smith caught his 676th career pass to surpass Shannon Sharpe on the team’s all-time receptions list. Later, Smith caught a 13-yard touchdown for his 56th score receiving, also passing Sharpe. After that one, he handed the ball to his sister, Karen, who came to watch him play for the first time since 1998.
“She’s the one who always inspired me,” Smith said. “You always hear these kind of stories—but she really was one of those people who would walk to work in the cold.”
Smith already held the team record for yards receiving, so with the latest milestones, he now holds all of Denver’s most significant receiving records.
“Just look at the stats,” receiver Ashley Lelie said. “He’s No. 1 in everything. First, first, first. You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
The Texans were unusually bad for a team widely regarded as one of the league’s up-and-coming clubs. David Carr (245 yards passing) led them on a nice 61-yard drive to open the game, but Kris Brown missed a 37-yard field goal, and from there, things went downhill.
Houston’s first score came on a one-play, 1-yard drive—the result of a blocked punt by Antwan Peek. That cut Houston’s deficit to 10-7, but wound up as the only big play Capers’ team made before the game got out of hand.
“I didn’t see this coming, to be honest with you,” Carr said.
Denver, meanwhile, made lots of big plays, including a 40-yard touchdown catch for Lelie and a 36-yarder for Jeb Putzier.
Plummer threw for 234 yards. Reuben Droughns ran for 120 to surpass 100 for the fourth time in five games.
When the Broncos weren’t producing on their own, the Texans were helping them. Their nine penalties included a 36-yard pass-interference call that set up Denver’s first score, and a silly 15-yarder for pushing Plummer as he headed out of bounds. That one gave the Broncos a boost en route to Lelie’s touchdown, which made it 17-7 late in the first half.
Notes: Denver’s Jason Elam made a 52-yard field goal and had a 46-yarder nullified by a holding call. … Neither team committed a turnover and the Broncos’ defense remained stuck on seven for the season. … Texans CB Dunta Robinson made the hit of the day, absolutely hammering FB Kyle Johnson after a fourth-quarter reception. But it was Robinson, not Johnson, who wound up needing help off the field. Neither player was injured.