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Broncos, Manning surge late to get record, AFC West title

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The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning didn't have a record-setting start against the Houston Texans on Dec. 22. In fact, the Broncos were in real trouble against the worst team in football, as they only led by 16-13 after three quarters. Yet in 15 minutes, Manning had one of his customary quick spurts that not only helped Denver cruise, it put him in the record books once more.

With three fourth-quarter touchdowns and four for the game, Manning went up to a record 51 touchdown passes for 2013. While the Broncos clinched the AFC West and moved one win away from a No. 1 seed with a 37-13 win, all anyone could focus on was Manning's newest record.

Tom Brady set the single-season record with 50 touchdowns in the New England Patriots' perfect 2007 regular season. However, it took Brady the full 16 games to do it, whereas Manning did it in just 15. For good measure, he also closed within 265 yards of the single-season passing yards record set by Drew Brees.

Until the fourth quarter, these records were far from Manning and the Broncos' minds. Denver should have blown out Houston a lot earlier, but it often settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. When the Texans closed within 16-13, the Broncos needed to wake up to avoid their second straight upset loss.

The momentum shifted when an interception off of Matt Schaub set up Manning's 49'th touchdown to Eric Decker. His 50'th went to Decker as well, which virtually sealed the game. By then, the last bit of suspense was over the record, which was set over two minutes later on a toss to Julius Thomas.

Manning not only broke Brady's mark, he kept the Patriots a game back for AFC home field. As such, clinching home field against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 29 can be the Broncos' top priority, instead of any record setting -- aside from Brees' passing yard mark.

When Brady set the bar, he did it to wrap up a perfect season and got to the Super Bowl afterwards. Manning and the Broncos have been more imperfect in recent weeks, which is cause for concern in a year where reaching the Super Bowl won't be enough -- although it would be an improvement from the last postseason. Therefore, regular season touchdowns will only mean so much for so long in Denver.

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