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End Games

Peyton Manning corralled, frustrated — and record breaking: Wade Phillips' Texans D rolls over late

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Peyton Manning Texans Broncos
Peyton Manning racked up the yards against the Houston Texans. But touchdowns were a little harder to come by. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Peyton Manning J.J. Watt Texans
Peyton Manning threw the ball 32 times in the first half against Wade Phillips' Texans D. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Johnathan Joseph Texans Broncos
Even after Johnathan Joseph went out with a foot injury, the Texans secondary did some things right. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Peyton Manning sideline Texans Broncos
Peyton Manning talked to his coaches and went back to work. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Peyton Manning Texans Broncos
Peyton Manning J.J. Watt Texans
Johnathan Joseph Texans Broncos
Peyton Manning sideline Texans Broncos

Peyton Manning throws the ball 32 times in the first half against the Houston Texans. He racks up 296 passing yards. He gets six different receivers at least two catches.

In one half.

And the Denver Broncos still somehow only manage one touchdown in the half.

A win for Texans interim coach Wade Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense? Partially.

For the Texans still trail 16-6 with plenty of their own offensive shortcomings at the break. Even after shutting out Manning in an impressive third quarter and pulling within 16-13, Houston (2-12 coming in) still looks like a longshot to steal a win.

When quarterback Matt Schaub throws an interception on the run, deep in his own territory, early in the fourth quarter, that shot evaporates in a quick Manning touchdown pass.

 Still — for what it's worth — it is clear Phillips' defense is by far the best unit the Texans have. What Houston has to build on rests on Wade's side of the ball. 

Still, Phillips' D accomplishes some things. It becomes the first defensive unit to stop Manning on fourth down this season. Safety Eddie Pleasant comes up and slams tight end Julius Thomas back for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-three. The defense gives up chunks of yards, but it also tightens up in the red zone. Through three quarters.

"Peyton Manning found a way to win," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith says. "You can only keep him down for so long."

In the fourth, Manning throws three touchdown passes to break Tom Brady's NFL record of 50 in a season. The last comes with 4:28 remaining, sealing a late runaway 37-13 Broncos win.

Of course, the Texans also drop two should-be interceptions (wave hello Brice McCain and Shiloh Keo!) And they also allow Manning to turn a first-and-10 at his own 31-yard line with only 26 seconds left in the first half into points.

Still — for what it's worth — it is clear Phillips' defense is by far the best unit the Texans have. What Houston has to build on rests on Wade's side of the ball. For three quarter, it's easy to argue, this is the defense's most impressive performance of the season. With the possible exception of that second half in San Diego — way back in Week One.

Yes, in a week when he scores 37 points and shatters an all-time NFL record, Manning has reason to be somewhat frustrated.

Midway through the third quarter, Peyton Manning — the best play-call adjuster in NFL history — is one for seven on third down against Phillips' D. Before the eighth third down attempt, Manning is forced to call a timeout. And he still ends up throwing short of the marker after the sideline consult.

In fact, Manning and the Broncos go three and out on their first two possessions of the second half. Denver all but completely abandons the running game. J.J. Watt keeps Manning's pocket from being a very comfortable place, bringing resounding hits if not sacks. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph getting knocked out of the game early with a foot injury doesn't even cripple the Texans defense.

The Texans defense is introduced before the game — the better to spare Schaub from extra booing.

Manning wears a glove on his passing hand even in the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium on a Texas temperate December day. It's one noticeable sign of everything the NFL's poster boy has been through — the four neck surgeries, all the rehab and the real doubt — to get back to dominating.

He'll take plenty of shots against the Texans defense. But he won't leave anything close to completely satisfied. The "consolation" prizes are pretty sweet though. Try 400 yards passing on 51 attempts, four touchdown throws and an important win for the team that is still playing for plenty.

"He made the big plays," Smith says. "He's the best I ever played against."

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