It’s the first time in franchise history that Denver has won three straight division titles.
The Broncos also clinched a first-round bye in the process, and will claim home field advantage if the Patriots lose or tie at Baltimore.
Along the way, Peyton Manning set a new single-season TD pass mark and surpassed the 5,000-yard plateau, and Knowshon Moreno went over 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, but Von Miller was lost to a knee injury that is feared serious.
Denver forced Houston into a quick three-and-out, and although they were able to overcome a few penalties on offense, their 78-yard drive stalled out after 12 plays, and the Broncos meekly settled for a 32-yard FG on 4th-and-3 from the 14.
They forced the Texans into another three-and-out, but Von Miller suffered an apparent knee injury on third down, never to return.
On their ensuing drive, the Broncos could not get past a holding penalty on Manny Ramirez. Interestingly, John Fox chose to go for it on 4th-and-3 from the 28, but Julius Thomas failed to reach the line to gain. (I thought they should have gone the first time, but not the second, but the 4th-Down Bot sides with Fox.)
A 33-yard throw from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson got Houston into field goal range, and they knotted the score at three with a 45-yarder from Randy Bullock.
The Broncos responded in lightning quick fashion, going 64 yards in five plays and just over two minutes, with Peyton Manning hitting Demaryius Thomas for a 36-yard touchdown that put them up 10-3.
A pair of punts followed, but Keshawn Martin returned Britton Colquitt’s 51 yards to the Denver 28, and Bullock converted a 35-yard attempt to draw Houston within 10-6.
Manning’s first-down pass to Thomas put him over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career; he joins Drew Brees (three times), Tom Brady, Dan Marino, and Matthew Stafford in that club.
The possession got as far as the Houston four-yard line, but another pair of offensive penalties kicked them all the way out to the 19, and Matt Prater stretched Denver’s advantage to 13-6 with a 25-yarder.
Houston took over with just 56 seconds remaining before halftime, but three quick incompletions gave the Broncos the ball at their own 31 with two timeouts in hand.
Perhaps the Texans kept chucking because they figured Fox wouldn’t unleash Manning in that situation.
But maybe the coach learned his lesson last January, because after three passes (all completed) and both timeouts, Denver had moved 43 yards, and Prater’s 44-yard attempt was true.
Denver led 16-6 at halftime, and Manning went into the locker room having completed 23 of his 32 attempts, for 296 yards and one touchdown.
After Denver opened the second half with an uncharacteristic three-and-out, Houston crafted a nine-play, 74-yard drive with a trio of third downs, the last a 15-yard pass from Schaub to Martin.
Two more Broncos three-and-outs followed, and although the offense appeared ready to get back on track late in the third quarter, another crucial penalty killed the drive.
But Mike Adams made a stellar sideline interception off Schaub on the second play of the final period, tiptoeing inbounds at the Houston 28.
Denver made quick work of the opportunity, with Knowshon Moreno running for 18 beastly yards (which put him over 1,000 on the season), and Eric Decker catching Manning’s 49th touchdown pass of the year.
Uncomfortably close at 16-13 just moments earlier, the Broncos’ advantage was suddenly a cozy 23-13.
Their next possession began nervously, as Trindon Holliday muffed a punt, but recovered at the Denver 35.
Eight plays later, Manning hit Decker again, this time with a 20-yard rainbow that gave Peyton 50 scoring throws, tying Brady’s mark.
The defense then forced a three-and-out, and Denver took over at their own 44-yard line with 5:16 remaining.
After a Moreno run, incompletion, and defensive pass interference penalty, the Broncos faced a 1st-and-10 from the Houston 25.
Manning delivered a beautiful throw to Julius Thomas on the right edge of the end zone, and the single-season record was his.
Denver now awaits the result of Patriots/Ravens, and perhaps more importantly, an MRI on Miller’s injured knee.
- Manning's 425 completions are a new Denver single-season record; the previous mark was 400, which Manning set last year
- His 631 attempts are also a new franchise standard, surpassing Jay Cutler's 616 from 2008
- Peyton has now led his teams to at least 12 wins in 10 of his 15 seasons
- This is Denver's ninth time reaching the 12-win mark
- The Broncos have 572 points on the season, which is 17 shy of the record set by the 2007 Patriots
- However, they'll need to score 50 at Oakland next Sunday if they're to top the per-game record of 38.8 points, set by the 1950 Rams
- Decker's two scores give him ten on the season, and he's the fifth Bronco to reach double digits in touchdowns, joining Moreno and the Thomases (12 each) and Wes Welker (10)
- Decker had 10 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns; he now has 83 receptions for 1,261 yards and 10 scores for the year; the yardage mark is a new career best (he established career highs with 85 catches, 1,064 yards, and 13 scores last year)
- With eight catches, 123 yards, and a score, Demaryius Thomas is up to 86 receptions, 1,317 yards, and 12 scores on the year; he had more catches (94) and yards (1,434) in 2012, but fewer touchdowns (10)
- Moreno now has 1,015 rushing yards and 507 receiving yards on the season; his previous single-season highs were 947 (in 2009) and 372 (in 2010), respectively
- It's the 20th time a Denver back has topped 1,000 yards
- Alarmingly, the Broncos have converted only four of 20 third-down opportunities over the past two weeks (they were 2/11 today)
- Denver had 25 first downs to Houston's 14, and outgained them by 511 yards to 240)
- Danny Trevathan (8 tackles (2 for loss), 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit, 1 pass defensed, 1 special teams tackle), Sly Williams (5 tackles (3 for loss), 1 sack, 1 QB hit), and Robert Ayers (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble) were stat sheet stuffers on defense
- Nate Irving and Malik Jackson each had five tackles (one each for loss)
- Videos: Highlights from BTV, NFLN, and of Manning's recordbreaking day; John Fox's and Peyton Manning's postgame speeches; John Fox, Peyton Manning, and several others speak afterward
- Transcribed quotes from Manning and others
- Mike Klis, Paul Klee, Andrew Mason, Jeff Legwold, Woody Paige, Chris Wesseling, John McClain, Nick Mathews, and Jerome Solomon recap the game
- Joan Niesen on Mike Adams's huge interception