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.
What the Broncos said
"I dropped the ball so fast to do my usual thing, and Deck (Denver receiver Eric Decker) picked the ball up so fast. I was like, 'Why did Deck pick the ball up so fast?' I'm not paying any attention, and I came back to the sidelines and I'm sitting down on the bench and somebody said, 'That was the one!' Maybe I shouldn't have dropped it so carelessly. I should've kept it." -- Tight end Julius Thomas, who was unaware that his touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was the record-setting 51st touchdown pass of the season for Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
What the Texans said
"You know Peyton Manning wants to throw the ball. They are not a running team. I think I went out there on the field expecting them to throw. He wants to set some records and stuff like that, but that's their offense. They are a throwing offense. That's how they move the ball, so I wasn't disappointed to see that." -- Free safety Shiloh Keo, on the Broncos going for the end zone up 30-13 late in the fourth quarter so that Peyton Manning could set the single-season record for touchdown passes.
What we learned about the Broncos
1. Running back Knowshon Moreno is an effective threat out of the backfield, and he should provide the Broncos with offensive balance when the postseason commences. Moreno became the first Denver player and 23rd overall in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a single season, doing so with his 76 rushing yards and 26 receiving yards Sunday.
2. When wide receiver Erik Decker snagged his 10-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, he became the fourth Denver receiver with at least 10 touchdown catches this season. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas each recorded their 12th touchdowns Sunday, and wide receiver Wes Welker also has 10 touchdown catches.
"Great route-running, great attention to detail," Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said of the accomplishment. "Obviously, all of those guys are super talented, otherwise they wouldn't be in the NFL."
What we learned about the Texans
1. Quarterback Matt Schaub was serviceable in his return to the starting lineup but was once again undone by a critical, late-game turnover. With Houston trailing 16-13 in the fourth quarter, Schaub forced a sideline pass to rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins that Broncos defensive back Mike Adams picked off. Denver scored two plays later to extend its lead to 10 points.
"Yeah, I would say I probably forced that one on the sideline to DeAndre," Schaub said. "Probably better just throwing it away in that situation, but in this type of game, we ought to go out and try to make plays."
2. Quietly, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is producing one of the better seasons of his exceptional career. On Sunday, he joined Broncos receiver Wes Welker as the only players in NFL history with five 100-catch seasons. Johnson has 103 receptions for 1,358 yards and five touchdowns, but the Texans are in the midst of a 13-game losing streak.
"Like I said, it's a great thing to have happen, but under these circumstances it really doesn't matter," Johnson said.