This was the kind of passing clinic for which Peyton Manning has become famous.
The four-time league MVP lifted the Denver Broncos to the top of the AFC on Sunday by throwing for five touchdowns and 403 yards in a 35-28 at Kansas City. Denver (10-2) swept two games in three weeks against its AFC West rival and ensured that by winning out, the Broncos will have home-field advantage in the conference playoffs for the second straight season.
“Sometimes, when you play a team close to back-to-back, there are some ideas that are fresh in your mind,” Manning said. “We thought there were some chances to get down the field in that first game that we never got to. We wanted to get to some of those plays.”
Manning’s main man on those plays was Eric Decker. He had four touchdowns on his eight receptions for a career-high 174 yards for the Broncos. On each of Decker’s TDs, the ball was thrown perfectly by Manning, who leads the NFL with 4,125 yards passing, the most through the first 12 games of a season. He’s in the midst of his 13th career 4,000-yard season, extending his league record, and it was Manning’s eighth career game with at least five touchdown passes, tied with Drew Brees for the most in NFL history.
“I think he showed people why he’s so great,” Decker said. “How we run our offense, we’re very versatile as far as going inside, outside, left, right, whatever it may be.”
The Chiefs jumped to a 21-7 lead, but the Broncos answered with 28 points. Alex Smith threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns for Kansas City, which has dropped three straight after winning its first nine. Knile Davis returned a kickoff 108 yards for another score.
Also Sunday, it was New England 34, Houston 31; Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 6; Philadelphia 24, Arizona 21; Cincinnati 17, San Diego 10; Indianapolis 22, Tennessee 14; San Francisco 23, St. Louis 13; Minnesota 23, Chicago 20, OT; Atlanta 34, Buffalo 31, OT; the New York Giants 24, Washington 17; Jacksonville 32, Cleveland 28; and Miami 23, the New York Jets 3.
The holiday weekend began with Detroit (7-5) beating Green Bay (5-7) 40-10, Dallas (7-5) over Oakland (4-8) 31-24, and Baltimore (6-6) downing Pittsburgh (5-7) 22-20.
On Monday night, a matchup for top record in the NFC has New Orleans (9-2) at Seattle (10-1).
PATRIOTS 34, TEXANS 31
At Houston, the Patriots (9-3) came on again in the second half to extend the Texans’ franchise-record slide to 10 games. Tom Brady threw for 371 yards and two scores, and Stephen Gostkowski made two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter.
“I wish we could start fast and put the foot on the gas pedal the whole way,” Brady said.
Gary Kubiak coached from the sideline for the first time since suffering a mini-stroke Nov. 3. He missed one game before working the last two games from the booth.
New England overcame a 24-point first-half deficit last week to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime. The Patriots trailed by 10 at halftime in this one and the lead changed five times in a wild second half.
Ben Tate ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns for the Texans (2-10), who haven’t won since Sept. 15.
PANTHERS 27, BUCCANEERS 6
At Charlotte, N.C., the Panthers won their record eighth straight regular-season game when Cam Newton threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.
Newton threw touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. and leaped over the pile for another score as the Panthers (9-3) outgained the Buccaneers 426-206. Newton has thrown for 13 touchdown passes and run for five scores during the Panthers’ current win streak.
“There is no roof, no sky,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “We’re going up. Every person on this team, every coach on this team has the same mentality right now. I feel like it’s contagious. Fans are getting it. They feel like they can’t be beat.”
Carolina’s defense came in allowing the fewest points in the league and flexed its muscles again, forcing two turnovers and sacking rookie Mike Glennon four times to snap a three-game winning streak for Tampa Bay (3-9). Glennon had thrown a touchdown pass in an NFL record eight straight games to start his career.
EAGLES 24, CARDINALS 21
At Philadelphia, Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes, two to Zach Ertz, and the Eagles (7-5) won their fourth straight to remain tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East.
Foles finished 21 of 34 for 237 yards against a defense ranked eighth. He set a team record for most passes without an interception (233), breaking Michael Vick’s mark of 224 set in 2010. He also moved within one TD pass of tying Peyton Manning’s mark of 20 and zero interceptions to start a season.
Carson Palmer threw for 302 yards and three TD passes, but also had two interceptions and lost a fumble as the Cardinals (7-5) had their four-game winning streak snapped.
BENGALS 17, CHARGERS 10
At San Diego, Andy Dalton threw a go-ahead, 21-yard touchdown pass to wide-open A.J. Green late in the third quarter and the AFC North-leading Bengals (8-4), coming off their bye, kept a two-game lead over Baltimore.
San Diego (5-7) lost the momentum it gained with a thrilling comeback win at Kansas City a week earlier and saw its playoff hopes dwindle after its fourth loss in five games.
COLTS 22, TITANS 14
At Indianapolis, 40-year-old Adam Vinatieri, the best clutch kicker in NFL history, tied his career high with five field goals, including a 49-yarder to give the Colts the lead for good late in the third quarter. He matched an NFL record with four field goals of 40 yards or longer in one game.
Vinatieri equaled Jason Elam’s NFL record for 100-point seasons (16).
Surprise starter Donald Brown scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:56 left, giving Indianapolis (8-4) a three-game lead in the AFC South with four to play. It owns the first tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of the Titans (5-7).
49ERS 23, RAMS 13
At San Francisco, Anquan Boldin caught nine passes from Colin Kaepernick, and Michael Crabtree made his long-awaited season debut six months after Achilles tendon surgery. Kaepernick threw for 275 yards and Frank Gore ran for a 3-yard touchdown as the reigning NFC champion Niners (8-4) boosted their position in the playoff picture. Crabtree had a 60-yard catch, while Vernon Davis hurdled into the end zone on a 17-yard reception.
Phil Dawson kicked three field goals, and San Francisco’s swarming defense rattled Kellen Clemens and the Rams (5-7) all day.
VIKINGS 23, BEARS 20, OT
At Minneapolis, Blair Walsh’s 34-yard field goal with 1:43 left in overtime won it. Adrian Peterson rushed 35 times for 211 yards for the Vikings (3-8-1), who tied Green Bay the previous week. Peterson had two 11-yard runs on the final drive to get well within range for Walsh, who missed a 57-yard try earlier in overtime.
Walsh had to kick that one because Rhett Ellison was called for a 15-yard face-mask penalty to wipe out a 39-yard make by Walsh that would’ve ended the game.
The Bears (6-6) then reached the 29-yard line, but coach Marc Trestman called for a field goal on second-and-7. Robbie Gould’s 47-yarder went wide right hours after the birth of his first child, a son.
“I’m happy for my wife and my little boy. Sorry I couldn’t do it for my teammates like I did for my wife this morning,” said Gould, who arrived in Minnesota about six hours before the game.
FALCONS 34, BILLS 31
At Toronto, Matt Bryant’s 36-yard field goal 3 minutes into overtime lifted Atlanta in Buffalo’s annual “home” game in Toronto. Falcons safety William Moore set up the decisive score in a back-and-fourth game by forcing a fumble on Buffalo’s second play from scrimmage. He punched the ball out of the arms of Bills tight end Scott Chandler.
Cornerback Robert McClain also forced a fumble on the Bills’ final possession of regulation, when he knocked the ball out of the hands of receiver Stevie Johnson at the Falcons 30 with 20 seconds remaining.
Steven Jackson scored twice, including the tying 1-yard plunge with 1:28 left for the Falcons (3-9), who snapped a five-game skid and won for the first time in six road games this season.
Fred Jackson scored twice for Buffalo (4-8).
GIANTS 24, REDSKINS 17
The host Redskins (3-9) were eliminated from contention as their defense of the NFC East title was a dud.
Eli Manning completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards, and Justin Tuck had four sacks to help shut down Robert Griffin III in the second half. Andre Brown had a pair of touchdown runs, including a 1-yarder early in the fourth quarter that put the Giants ahead for good.
Griffin was 16 for 17 at halftime, but he went 8 for 15 in the second half, and the Redskins managed only 95 total yards after halftime.
Game officials appeared to mismanage the downs on Washington’s final series, indicating that the Redskins made a first down before reversing the decision despite moving the chains and switching the down markers.
JAGUARS 32, BROWNS 28
At Cleveland, Cecil Shorts caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne with 40 seconds left, rallying the Jaguars. It was a dream moment for Shorts, who grew up in Cleveland.
Henne drove the Jaguars (3-9) 80 yards in nine plays for the winning TD.
The Browns (4-8) had taken a 28-25 lead on Brandon Weeden’s 95-yard TD pass to Josh Gordon with 3:55 remaining. Gordon returned from a head injury and finished with 10 catches for a team record 261 yards. Gordon is the first player in NFL history to have consecutive 200-yard games. He had 237 in a loss last week against Pittsburgh.
DOLPHINS 23, JETS 3
Ryan Tannehill threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, leading Miami past the listless Jets to keep the Dolphins in the playoff mix.
The visiting Dolphins (6-6) played with more of a sense of urgency while sending the Jets (5-7) to their third straight loss. New York also has a quarterback controversy on its hands as Geno Smith was benched in favor of Matt Simms after a dismal first half.
Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace had touchdown receptions for Miami, while Tannehill finished 28 for 43 with an interception.