HOUSTON - Peyton Manning had to prepare for a 2-point conversion and couldn't celebrate when he set the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in 2004.
On Sunday, when Denver's quarterback regained the record against the Houston Texans, he was able to soak in the historic moment.
"It was very special," he said. "Very rarely during an NFL game do you get to have a moment like that."
Manning regained his record with 51 when he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter to give Denver its third straight AFC West title. He surpassed the 50 TD passes Tom Brady threw in 2007 and led the Broncos (12-3) to a 37-13 win 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 2 ½ minutes earlier, he tied the mark with a 20-yard pass to Eric Decker.
Manning figures Brady will overtake him again one day, especially if the NFL moves to an 18-game regular season.
"I think it's a unique thing and a neat thing to be a part of NFL history, even though it may be temporary," he said. "So I'm going to enjoy it as long as it lasts, and hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back once somebody throws for more."
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.
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.
"This only means something because it helped our team win games and we won the division today in a competitive AFC West," Manning said. "That's a good thing."
Manning had previously established the record by throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004.
He has a career-high 5,211 yards passing this season, which is third in NFL history and 265 yards shy of the 5,476 yards Drew Brees gained in 2011.
"The guy is a great quarterback, obviously," Houston interim coach Wade Phillips said. "The last one, I was surprised that they threw it deep late in the game, but that's part of football."
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.
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.
"I thought the turning point was the Mike Adams interception," Denver coach John Fox said.
It was all Broncos after that, with Manning grabbing the record with two more touchdown passes.
Manning made the record-setting throw to Julius Thomas and walked toward the end zone, where his teammates patted him on the head. He then took off his helmet and walking to the sideline and pumped his fist once. His teammates came out to greet him and he gave dozens of high-fives as he grinned and walked to the bench.
Decker picked up the ball after Thomas dropped it after the touchdown and tucked it in the side of his jersey, where it remained as he walked off the field.
Manning laughed when asked about Thomas not holding onto the ball after the score.
"It wouldn't have surprised me if Julius would have went and handed it to some babe up in the stands, trying to get her phone number in exchange for the ball," he joked. "That would be right up Julius' alley."
Thomas didn't realize his reception set the record when he caught it.
"I came back to the sidelines and I'm sitting down on the bench and somebody said: 'That was the one,'" he said. "Maybe I shouldn't have dropped it so carelessly, I should have kept it."
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.
Andre 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.
Johnson entered the game needing one catch to reach the mark held by Welker. He did it on a 33-yard reception in the first quarter.
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.
NOTES: The Broncos lost star linebacker Von Miller to a knee injury in the first quarter, and Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph went out with a foot injury in the second quarter and didn't return. Neither coach had updates on the injuries after the game. ... Houston TE Ryan Griffin had a career-high 66 yards receiving.