Manning’s record-setting day leads Broncos over Texans


By KRISTIE RIEKEN

AP Sports Writer

HOUSTON — Houston’s franchise-record skid extended to 13 games with a 37-13 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

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.”

Peyton Manning led Denver to the win 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 ½ 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.

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.

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.

PANTHERS 17, SAINTS 13

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to lift the Panthers to the team’s first playoff berth since 2008. Carolina (11-4) can wrap up the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win next Sunday at Atlanta.

The Panthers intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him six times to avenge a 31-13 loss two weeks ago.

Still, the Panthers needed some last-minute big plays from Newton. After being held to 116 yards passing for the game’s first 59 minutes, Newton led the Panthers 65 yards in 32 seconds for the winning score.

The Saints (10-5) still are in position to clinch a playoff berth. The Saints have dropped five of their last six games away from the Superdome.

BENGALS 42, VIKINGS 14

CINCINNATI — Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown as Cincinnati’s defense set up another fast start. Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes.

The Bengals (10-5) remained perfect at home and clinched an unprecedented third straight playoff appearance when Miami lost at Buffalo. In his past four home games, Dalton has thrown for five, three, three and four touchdowns. The Bengals have topped 40 points in each of their past four home games, a club record.

The Vikings (4-10-1) had knocked off playoff contenders Chicago and Philadelphia in the past three weeks. Even with Adrian Peterson back from a foot injury, they couldn’t keep up.

The Vikings had allowed the second-most points in the league heading into the game. They gave up 40 for the third time this season.

COLTS 37, CHIEFS 7

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards and a touchdown, Donald Brown ran 51 yards for another score in a potential preview of an AFC wild-card game.

The Colts (10-5), who have already wrapped up the AFC South, took advantage of four turnovers by the Chiefs (11-4) to win for the fifth time in their last six tries against Kansas City.

If Indianapolis ends up as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs — the Chiefs are assured the fifth seed — the teams will meet again in the warmer environs of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Alex Smith threw for 153 yards, but he fumbled once and was picked off twice after throwing just six interceptions in his first 14 games. Jamaal Charles ran for 106 yards and the game’s opening score.

BILLS 19, DOLPHINS 0

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Dolphins had a three-game winning streak snapped and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. With the loss, Miami (8-7) needs help from other teams. Miami hosts the New York Jets next weekend.

The Dolphins’ loss clinched the AFC East for New England.

Kyle Williams had two of Buffalo’s season-best seven sacks to key a stifling defensive performance.

The shutout was Buffalo’s first since a 23-0 win over Washington at Toronto on Oct. 30, 2011. And it was the Bills’ first shutout at Ralph Wilson Stadium since a 21-0 win over Miami on Dec. 17, 2006.

COWBOYS 24, REDSKINS 23

LANDOVER, Md. — Tony Romo recovered from a bad interception and rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit. He found DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:08 remaining.

The victory ended a two-game Dallas skid — as well as a five-game December losing streak — and sets up a winner-take-all regular season finale for the NFC East title next week, when the Cowboys (8-7) host the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Redskins (3-12) lost their seventh straight, the second in a row by one point. Pierre Garcon (11 catches, 144 yards) broke Art Monk’s single-season franchise reception record, while coach Mike Shanahan clinched his worst record in his 20 seasons as a head coach.

RAMS 23, BUCCANEERS 13

ST. LOUIS — Robert Quinn got three of St. Louis’ seven sacks and set a franchise season record. Quinn leads the NFL with 18 sacks. He broke Kevin Carter’s franchise record of 17 in that 1999 Super Bowl title season.

Zac Stacy rushed for 104 yards on 33 carries and a touchdown, and the Rams (7-8) matched their victory total from last year. Fellow rookies Stedman Bailey scored on a 27-yard reverse, and Alec Ogletree forced two fumbles.

The Rams won without left tackle Jake Long, who injured his knee on the first series. Coach Jeff Fisher believes Long tore a knee ligament.

The Buccaneers (4-11) managed just 170 total yards, setting a season low for the second straight week.

JETS 24, BROWNS 13

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Geno Smith threw two touchdown passes to David Nelson and ran for another score. Smith had his first game with at least two TD passes since October, with no turnovers or sacks. The rookie was 20 of 36 for 214 yards and also ran for 48 yards — including a 17-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter.

Chris Ivory rushed for 109 yards on 20 carries for the Jets (7-8), who were eliminated from the playoff picture last week. Nelson, cut by the Browns after training camp, finished with four catches for 33 yards.

Jason Campbell was intercepted twice as the Browns (4-11) lost their sixth straight.

TITANS 20, JAGUARS 16

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nate Washington scored on a 30-yard reception in the fourth quarter and Tennessee got a much-needed defensive stop late to end a three-game losing streak.

Tennessee (6-9) overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and won for just the third time since September. Washington finished with six catches for 117 yards.

The Jaguars (4-11) were in position to take the lead after that, but Ropati Pitoitua stuffed Maurice Jones-Drew on a fourth-and-1 play at the Tennessee 20 with 5:21 remaining.

EAGLES 54. BEARS 11

PHILADELPHIA — With little on the line until next week, Chip Kelly didn’t rest his starters until they finished whipping the Chicago Bears.

Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes, LeSean McCoy ran for two scores and the Philadelphia Eagles routed the Bears 54-11 on Sunday night in a matchup of first-place teams with opposite stakes.

Chicago’s loss sets up two winner-take-all games for NFC division crowns next week.

The Bears (8-7) came in needing a win to clinch the NFC North and secure the No. 3 seed while Philadelphia was just trying to stay healthy. But the Eagles (9-6) played like the team trying to lock up a playoff berth.

Now, the Bears must tie or beat the Packers (7-7-1) at home next week to win the North.

The Eagles (9-6) have to tie or beat the Cowboys (8-7) in Dallas next Sunday night to win the NFC East and complete a worst-to-first season under their rookie coach. Once Dallas rallied to beat Washington earlier in the day, the Eagles knew they were only playing for a No. 3 seed even if they win the division.

 

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