DENVER — Stronger, healthier, feistier than ever.
Peyton Manning capped a spunky week by getting the first disciplinary penalty of his storied career Saturday night when he was whistled for taunting in the Denver Broncos' 18-17 preseason loss to the Houston Texans.
Manning was mad after D.J. Swearinger hit slot receiver Wes Welker in the face on a tackle. So, after throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the next play, Manning ran up to the Texans' swaggering second-year safety and gave him a piece of his mind.
"He didn't invite me to dinner," Swearinger said.
Welker, who has a history of head injuries, sustained a concussion, coach John Fox said afterward.
"Obviously, I'm concerned about Wes," Manning said. "I didn't like seeing him come out of the game with a blow to the head. He had one of those last year that kept him out for a while."
Besides, Manning said, 15 yards with 5 seconds left in the half, why not?
"I think if you're going to get one, that's a good time to get one," said Manning, who has never had a personal foul among his 60 career infractions in the regular season and playoffs.
Manning declined to reveal what he said to Swearinger, who was also at the center of several skirmishes during the teams' three days of intense joint practices during the week.
As for what Swearinger replied, "he said, 'Thanks, appreciate it. Good luck to you as well,'" Manning cracked.
Swearinger swore that he didn't cross the line with a cheap shot on Welker.
"I led with my shoulder. That's the only thing I could do. He's a short guy," Swearinger said.
"There are some fine lines with hits. I could have tried to go low, but he ducked his head. ... What am I supposed to do? I made a Hall of Famer mad."
Out of respect for Manning, however, Swearinger declined to reveal what the five-time MVP said other than to confirm foul language was exchanged.
"That is a Hall of Fame quarterback. I respect him," Swearinger said. "But he shouldn't have done what he did."
Manning's teammates wholeheartedly disagreed.
"I loved it," Marvin Austin said. "It's a beautiful thing. Peyton's not really a trash-talking guy."
Manning, who called out his offense earlier in the week for a sloppy practice, and Sanders found their rhythm after an early miscue. They connected for two long touchdowns in the final 67 seconds of the first half to give Denver a 17-7 lead.
Sanders, who practiced only sparingly this month because of a nagging thigh injury, was targeted eight times by Manning and caught five passes for 128 yards.
Manning texted Sanders on Wednesday night telling him he'd better get back in the lineup so they could work on their timing.
It was evident their rhythm was off when backup cornerback A.J. Bouye intercepted a pass to Sanders early in the second quarter that led to Jonathan Grimes' 1-yard run that gave Houston a 7-3 lead.
Sanders took the blame, but Manning called it "a poor throw and decision by me."
Sanders made up for his blunder when he zipped past Bouye and strong safety Eddie Pleasant to haul in Manning's 67-yard touchdown pass with 1:07 left in the first half. Then, he zigzagged between the same defensive backs for the 29-yard score with :05 left.
"It was good to get Emmanuel out there. I had not completed a pass to Emmanuel in a game yet," Manning said. "I wanted to get some completions to him. I think you want to complete some passes to a first-year receiver in this offense going into the season opener."
With all the work the teams put in together during the week, both head coaches dialed back the work they gave their starters.
Texans DE J.J. Watt played just part of the first series and Denver LB Von Miller played a single series in his first game since tearing his right ACL on Dec. 22. And that was more than fans got to see of top overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, who sat this one out.
Running back Montee Ball started for Denver 19 days after his appendectomy and had four runs and four receptions on Denver's opening drive. That series ended with Matt Prater's 32-yard field goal.
Houston won it when third QB Tom Savage drove the Texans 74 yards, hitting Ryan Griffin for a 31-yard TD with 59 seconds left and finding Travis Labhart for the 2-point conversion.
Notes: Manning finished 21 of 27 for 243 yards. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 10 of 17 for 80 yards. ... Broncos CB Tony Carter (neck) came out in the second half.