HOUSTON (AP) — Peyton Manning led Denver to a 37-13 win over Houston on Sunday with a big fourth quarter. He regained his NFL record for most touchdown passes with 51 when he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter.
He surpassed the 50 TD passes Tom Brady threw in 2007 and led the Broncos (12-3) over the Texans (2-13), who haven’t won since Sept. 15.
Manning set the record on a 25-yard pass to Julius Thomas with 4:28 remaining. Just 2 1/2 minutes earlier, he tied the mark with a 20-yard pass to Eric Decker.
He entered the game with 47 and his first touchdown came on a 36-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter. The second was a 10-yard throw to Decker earlier in the fourth period.
Manning had previously established the record by throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004.
Houston’s franchise-record skid extended to 13 games with a loss to the Broncos.
Now the Texans need a win in the season finale at Tennessee to avoid matching their franchise-record worst record of 2-14 from 2005.
It’s a stunning downfall for a team that won the AFC South the last two seasons and went 12-4 last year before injuries and poor play led to coach Gary Kubiak’s firing and dropped Houston to the NFL’s worst mark in 2013.
“Nobody’s throwing in the towel,” receiver Andre Johnson said. “(We’re) just going to keep playing … we’re going to keep fighting, and hopefully it will work out for us on Sunday.”
Matt Schaub started for the first time since Oct. 13 in place of an injured Case Keenum. He finished with 176 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions for the Texans.
Schaub, benched for Keenum after a terrible six games, admitted that he has thought about the possibility Sunday was his last time to play in Houston.
“It has definitely crossed my mind,” he said. “I didn’t want to think too far ahead, but I’ve played this game long enough to know how things work.”
The Broncos already had a spot in the playoffs, but their victory, combined with Kansas City’s loss to Indianapolis, gave them the division crown. They could secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if New England doesn’t win its late game at Baltimore.
The Broncos couldn’t do anything offensively in the third quarter, gaining just 38 yards, and had to punt on each of their four possessions. Their defense helped them out after that, with Mike Adams intercepting Schaub at the Houston 28.
Manning wasted no time making Houston pay, and found Decker two plays later for the touchdown that extended the lead to 23-13.
It was all Broncos after that, with Manning grabbing the record with two more touchdown passes.
“Peyton Manning found a way there at the end,” Houston defensive end Antonio Smith said. “In a game like this … three points are never going to win you the game. You only have so long before they start making plays themselves.”
Decker led the Broncos with 10 receptions for 131 yards, and Demaryius Thomas had eight catches for 123 yards. Wes Welker missed his second straight game after sustaining his second concussion in four weeks on Dec. 8.
Schaub found Keshawn Martin on a 15-yard touchdown pass to get Houston within 16-13 early in the third quarter. Johnson finished with four catches for 63 yards. He has 103 catches this season to reach 100 for the fifth time in his career, tying an NFL record for most seasons with at least that many receptions.
“It’s all fine and dandy,” Johnson said of the record, “but I only play the game for one reason, and that’s to win. It’s a great thing to happen, but under these circumstances it really doesn’t matter.”
Johnson entered the game needing one catch to reach the mark held by Welker. He did it on a 33-yard reception in the first quarter. Johnson also had more than 100 receptions in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Manning’s TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of the second quarter put Denver up 10-3. Houston used a 35-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-6 after a 51-yard punt return by Martin.
Matt Prater made field goals of 25 and 44 yards to extend Denver’s lead to 16-6 at halftime.
NOTES: The Broncos lost star linebacker Von Miller to a knee injury in the first quarter, and Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph went out with a foot injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. Neither coach had updates on the injuries after the game. … Houston TE Ryan Griffin had a career-high 66 yards receiving.
BY KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
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