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HOUSTON (AP) — Peyton Manning never dreamed he’d throw an NFL record 51 touchdowns just two years removed from neck surgeries that threatened to end his career.
Manning reflected on his remarkable comeback soon after regaining the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Denver’s 37-13 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday that gave the Broncos their third straight AFC West title.
“There was major unpredictability,” Manning said. “So a lot of (doctors) said: ‘Maybe you’ll come back to this level and maybe not.’ So there was definitely some wait and see ... but no, it would be hard to say you could have imagined this at that point.”
He missed the entire 2011 season after four neck surgeries weakened his right triceps and put his future in question.
Now 37, Manning regained his record 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) to the victory over the Texans (2-13) that extended Houston’s franchise-record skid to 13 games.
Manning did it on a 25-yard pass to Julius Thomas with 4:28 remaining. Just 2½ 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.
“It’s just amazing to be able to be a part of it,” Denver center Manny Ramirez said. “Everything we see from Peyton, being prepared, it’s worked for him.”
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.
“It’s never fun to be on the opposite end of a record-breaking performance,” Houston defensive end J.J. Watt said. “The guy is a heck of a football player and you give credit where credit is due. There is a reason the guy should be MVP this year.”