Houston • Dapper as always in his immaculate suit and tie, Peyton Manning paused in the sparse, concrete-floored bowels of Reliant Stadium to accept another round of congratulations on his historic accomplishment.
It hardly seemed like the right place moments after one of the all-time greats delivered one of his unforgettable performances. Then again, the meager surroundings fit the perspective Manning gave to his latest passing record.
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Manning didn’t dismiss the single-season touchdown pass record he set Sunday while leading the Broncos to a first-round playoff bye and 37-13 victory against the woefully slumping Houston Texans.
He respects how difficult the game is sometimes, even if this applies far more to others than himself. But Manning wasn’t going to squeeze the living accolades out of the record either.
"The way the game is today, none of these offensive records will last," he said.
Before a Reliant Stadium gathering of 71,761, Manning threw for an even 400 yards and four touchdowns — but it’s his 51 touchdown passes and 5,211 passing yards for the season that will stir discussions about his place among the quarterback greats.
"I think this kind of stamps his greatness," said receiver Eric Decker, who became the fifth Bronco to score at least 10 touchdowns this season. "Especially when you look at where he was two years ago, where he’s at now, the work ethic that allowed him to get here."
Manning went from missing the 2011 season to recover from four neck surgeries to entering game 15 this year with 47 touchdown passes, three shy of the record set by his friend and personal nemesis Tom Brady. A 36-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of the second quarter gave Manning 48 touchdown passes.
He added No. 49 and the record-tying 50th to Decker in the fourth quarter, then was mobbed on the field by his teammates after he set the record with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas.
"It’s a unique thing to be part of and neat thing to be part of NFL history even though it may be temporary," Manning said. "I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games. And there won’t be an asterisk next to them. Brady will probably break it again next year if not the year after."
Manning also is only 265 passing yards shy of Drew Brees’ record set in 2011. "Yards to me doesn’t [matter] ... touchdowns to me means it’s helping your teams win games," Manning said.
To Manning, the game was a coronation of sorts to his brilliant 16-year career. To the Broncos, it meant rest for the battered and bruised.
Their victory coupled with the Kansas City Chiefs’ home loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts, clinched the Broncos’ third consecutive AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye.
Guaranteed at least the No. 2 AFC seed, the Broncos can clinch the No. 1 spot if they beat Oakland next week, or if New England loses to Buffalo.
Either way, the Broncos will be allowed to skip the playoffs’ first round Jan. 4-5 and advance to the second round on Jan. 11-12.
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