Manning not letting record disguise Texans' defense

The Associated Press - Updated: December 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm • Published: December 21, 2013 | 4:55 pm 0

HOUSTON - Peyton Manning was still catching up on his film study. So he avoided the question when asked this week if he was surprised by Houston's stunning downfall.

While Manning may not be well-acquainted with the dreadful 2013 Texans, he is quite familiar with many terrible Houston teams he terrorized year after year while playing for the Indianapolis Colts.

Denver's quarterback is 16-3 with 44 touchdowns against the Texans, who enter Sunday's game looking to snap a franchise-record 12-game skid. Now 37, Manning is having one of the best seasons by a quarterback in NFL history.

His 4,811 yards passing this year are the most in NFL history through 14 games, and his 47 touchdowns passes are fourth in league history and three away from Tom Brady's single-season NFL record set in 2007.

He shied away from whether this is the best he's ever played.

"I really feel I'm in the second chapter of my football career," Manning said. "Any comparison that I make may go back to last year. Obviously, I have a little more comfort with my surroundings, the coaches, the culture, my teammates ... I've really stopped making comparisons, really to before I was injured and then before I got to Denver."

Despite Houston's struggles, Manning certainly knows better than to take the Texans lightly, especially with playoff implications riding on this game. Denver has secured a spot in the postseason and will win the AFC West with a victory over Houston and a loss by Kansas City.

The Broncos get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and losses by both New England and Kansas City.

"I'm really trying to study the players they have now," Manning said. "They've had 10 games that have been one touchdown or less. All I know is we're facing a good defense. That's what I know."

The Texans have the NFL's worst record, but their defense is allowing the fourth-fewest yards in the league and is second in yards passing allowed per game.

Five things to know about the Colts-Texans game:

ANDRE THE GIANT: Houston receiver Andre Johnson needs one catch to reach 100 receptions for the fifth time in his career. If he reaches the mark, it will tie him with Denver's Wes Welker for most 100-catch seasons in NFL history. He needs 205 yards to reach 1,500 yards receiving and become the first player in NFL history to have four seasons with at least 100 receptions and 1,500 yards receiving.

WELKER QUESTIONABLE: Welker has officially been ruled out for Sunday's game after sustaining his second concussion in four weeks on Dec. 8. He will likely miss the regular-season finale as well. Welker has 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. He needs eight receptions to tie Rod Smith for most catches by an undrafted player in NFL history.

"The biggest thing with him is we just want to make sure he's healthy," Broncos coach John Fox said. "When they give us the go-ahead, we'll have him out here. Right now, our biggest concern is Wes' health. When he's available, he'll be available."

SCHAUB'S BACK: Matt Schaub will start at quarterback in place of an injured Case Keenum against the Broncos. Schaub, who was benched after six games, will start for the first time since Oct. 13. Keenum has an injury to a ligament in his right thumb and was unable to grip the football this week.

"I'm excited to get back out there with my teammates," Schaub said. "Go out there and cut it loose, and end these last two weeks on a good note."

Schaub last played in the second half at Jacksonville on Dec. 5 and moved the ball well before throwing an interception on what could have been the go-ahead drive in a 27-20 loss.

A Houston loss and a Washington win clinches the first overall draft pick for the Texans.

KNOWSHON'S SEASON: Denver's Knowshon Moreno needs 8 yards rushing to tie his career-high of 947 from his rookie year in 2009, and is 61 yards from his first 1,000-yard rushing season and the 20th in Denver history. Moreno is 19 yards receiving from 500. If he reaches both of the milestones, he'll be the first player in franchise history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season.

RUNNING BACK WOES: The Texans, who were already without star Arian Foster, took another blow to their running game this week when Ben Tate (rib) was placed on injured reserve. Tate hadn't missed a game despite playing with four broken ribs since October.

Undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson, who was signed in late October, will start Sunday. Johnson has appeared in seven games this season with 37 carries for 154 yards.

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