DENVER -- Matt Schaub outdueled Peyton Manning even as he fought through a physical pounding that cost him a little piece of his ear.
Schaub matched a career best by throwing for four touchdown passes, and the Houston Texans held off the Denver Broncos 31-25 Sunday for the first 3-0 start in the team's 10-year history.
Shaking off a sack in the end zone that resulted in a safety on his first play along with a big hit in the third quarter that knocked his helmet off and cut his ear, Schaub completed 17 of 30 passes for 290 yards. He also helped Texans coach Gary Kubiak, a onetime Broncos offensive coordinator and a backup in his playing days to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, reach his 50th career victory.
"He's one of the toughest guys I've seen play," said tight end Owen Daniels, who caught Schaub's final touchdown pass. "He was a warrior out there. Sometimes, I don't think he gets enough credit for how tough a guy he is.
"He was taking some shots. I didn't see the shots with my own eyes, but I heard 'em. For him to come back in after stepping out for a play and getting his bearings was huge for us and huge for the confidence of the guys in the huddle, knowing that he was going to do everything he could to make sure we won that game."
Schaub's scoring throws including strikes of 60 yards to Andre Johnson and 52 yards to Kevin Walter. It was the second time in his career he had two touchdown passes of at least 50 yards in a game.
"The coverage matched up with what we were trying to do with play-action and how our run game works -- it all meshed and jived really well," Schaub said. "Ultimately, it came down to those guys making those plays, Andre and Kevin, down the field."
It also came down to Schaub fighting through the physical toll from the Broncos' defensive pressure, including a head-jarring hit from linebacker Joe Mays that drew a penalty flag and sent Schaub's helmet flying off his head .
"I just lost a little piece of my ear -- I was bleeding and my helmet came off so I had to come out for a play, but I was fine," Schaub said.
He said Mays apologized to him on the field after the game, and Mays said he didn't mean to hit him in the head.
"My intention was to hurry him, to get the ball out or get a sack," said Mays, who expects to be fined by the league. "He kind of ducked his head toward the end, and it ended up being helmet-to-helmet. I can't take it back, so I guess it's on to the next game."
It's been a tough two-week stretch for the Broncos, with late rallies coming up short against the Texans as well as the Atlanta Falcons the week before.
"We probably didn't find enough of a rhythm early on," Manning said. "There certainly was some good fight in there at the end, but we've got to do a better job early."
Coming off a subpar outing in a loss at Atlanta in which he threw three interceptions, Manning bounced back to complete 26 of 52 passes for 323 yards. The completions included a 38-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with 9:49 remaining after the Broncos' Justin Bannan recovered a fumble by Ben Tate near midfield.
An apparent 31-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 4:33 remaining was reversed when a replay review showed that the Broncos wide receiver didn't get both feet inbounds. Moments later, though, cornerback Kareem Jackson was flagged for interfering with Eric Decker in the end zone, and the 26-yard penalty gave Denver a first-and-goal at Houston's 1-yard line. A couple plays later, Manning completed a 6-yard scoring pass to Joel Dreessen, who made the catch with three minutes left after the throw deflected off Decker and two Texans defenders.
"You want to put as much pressure on him as you can," said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who was credited with 2.5 of Houston's three sacks. "He still made a lot of great throws. He's a great quarterback but we had a good day defensively."
Houston managed to run off most of the remaining time when Schaub converted a third-and-5 play with a 12-yard completion to Johnson. The Broncos got the ball back deep in their territory on a punt with just 20 seconds left and time ran out when their final desperation play involving a series of laterals failed.
Ahead by 10 points, the Texans stretched their lead to 24-11 when Shayne Graham kicked a 41-yard field goal with 9:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Texans were aided on the drive by two roughing-the-passer penalties, including the one in which Mays jolted Schaub with a blow that knocked the quarterback's helmet off
Schaub left the game for one play, and later connected with Owen Daniels on a 14-yard scoring pass to put the Texans up 31-11 with 1:33 remaining in the third quarter.
The Broncos took an early 5-0 lead when Elvis Dumervil broke through to sack Schaub in the end zone for a safety and Matt Prater finished off a drive with his first field goal, a 32-yarder.
But the Texans rode Schaub's arm to a 21-11 halftime lead. In quick succession, he connected on touchdown passes to Johnson, Walter and Arian Foster, who hauled in a 3-yarder.
Schaub hit Johnson in stride after the wide receiver got behind cornerback Tracy Porter, picking up his 100th career scoring pass in the process.
Foster was open in the flat for his first touchdown catch of the season, capping a 97-yard drive that stood out as the Texans' longest since a 99-yard march against Baltimore in December 2010.
Schaub picked on Porter again when Walter streaked past him and ran under Schaub's third scoring pass of the day.
"He played great," Johnson said of Schaub. "You could tell he was really focused on what he was doing. He took a big hit, came right back in on the next play. He's playing at a really high level. He's been doing it for a while."
NOTES: Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno, a former first-round pick who has been listed as Willis McGahee's backup, was among the team's inactive players a week after a costly fumble in the loss at Atlanta. ... McGahee left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. ... Broncos linebacker Nate Irving suffered a concussion in the second quarter and did not return. ... Broncos receiving great Rod Smith became the 23rd player in team history to be inducted into the club's Ring of Fame during halftime ceremonies at Sports Authority Field. ... Johnson extended his consecutive reception streak to 85 games. ... Linebacker Wesley Woodyard's interception late in the second quarter snapped Schuab's 104-pass run without a pick. It was the second longest streak in the Texans' 10-year history, trailing only Schaub's run of 110 passes without an interception in 2010.