ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The final quarter of the Broncos' 2013 regular season brought NFL history and a third-consecutive AFC West title, but not before the team had to overcome one of the most difficult losses of the season. Denver used its 27-20 setback against San Diego in the Broncos' home finale as a learning experience - and as motivation that would fuel the team for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs. The Broncos capped their season with historic back-to-back wins on the road at Houston and Oakland, as quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL single-season records for passing touchdowns and passing yardage, while the Broncos became the highest-scoring team in NFL history. All of it, of course, led to the Broncos earning the AFC's top-overall seed for the playoffs.
Broncos 51, Titans 28
How it happened: For a second consecutive week, the Broncos rallied from a double-digit deficit in the first half – and once again, it was the arm of Manning that helped get them back on track. Manning threw a pair of touchdowns each half to boost the Broncos against the Titans but the biggest lift may have come from kicker Matt Prater, whose NFL-record 64-yard field goal before the half cut Tennessee’s lead to 21-20 headed into the locker room. Denver responded by outscoring the Titans 31-7 after the break, with the Broncos forcing a pair of Titans turnovers, which the offense turned into touchdowns on the ensuing possessions. For the game, the Broncos outgained the Titans 551-254, the second consecutive week that Denver has gained more than 500 yards of total offense.
Key moment: What else could it have been? Prater’s record-setting field goal sent the crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High into a frenzy and sent the Broncos into the locker room with all the momentum. When they returned to the field, Denver dominated the second half of the game.
It was over when: The Broncos forced a quick three-and-out while leading 44-28 in the fourth quarter and then drove 49 yards on 10 plays for a 5-yard Montee Ball touchdown run.
Key performer: Manning finished the day by completing 39 of a career-high 59 passing attempts, throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns. It was the seventh time of the season season that the quarterback had thrown four-or-more touchdowns in a game - and he wasn't done yet.
Chargers 27, Broncos 20
How it happened: The Broncos jumped out to a fast start against the Chargers, marching the ball 67 yards on seven plays on the game’s opening drive and taking a 7-0 lead just over three minutes into the game when Manning found wide receiver Andre Caldwell on a 15-yard touchdown pass. But while the Broncos tacked on a nine-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a 32-yard Matt Prater field goal to cap the scoring in the first quarter, Denver’s offense hit a standstill in the second and third quarters. The Broncos gained just two first downs in that 30-minute span, falling behind 24-10 in the process. As the third quarter melted into the fourth, Manning marched the Broncos on a 12-play, 89-yard drive – including a critical 15-yard completion to Caldwell on fourth-and-6 from the Charger 31 – and capped the drive by linking up with Caldwell once again on a 5-yard touchdown pass, cutting the score to 24-17. Denver got the ball back on its own 3-yard line four minutes later, but on the second play of that drive, Manning’s pass was intercepted by Chargers linebacker Thomas Keiser, ending Denver’s best chance for a rally.
Key moment: Despite several key penalties that helped the Chargers sustain drives in the second half, the Broncos still had opportunities late in the game. Keiser's interception, however, all-but-sealed the door shut for Denver.
It was over when: Prater’s onside kick was tapped out of bounds by a Chargers player in the game’s closing seconds, giving the ball back to San Diego.
Key performer: Caldwell posted the first multi-touchdown game of his six-year career, catching six passes for 59 yards and a pair of scores.
Broncos 37, Texans 13
How it happened: What ultimately concluded as a historic day for the Broncos – and for Manning – was a roller coaster ride for much of their showdown with the Texans. Before Manning threw his NFL-record 51st touchdown pass of the season – and before the Broncos clinched their franchise-record third-consecutive AFC West title – Denver was locked in a 16-13 tussle entering the game’s final quarter. Safety Mike Adams’ interception of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on the second play of the fourth quarter proved to be the spark, giving the Broncos the ball at the Houston 28 yard-line. Two plays later, Manning threw a 10-yard touchdown to wide receiver Eric Decker, giving Denver a 10-point cushion. From there, Manning took over – both in the game and in the NFL record books. Manning’s final pair of touchdown passes – a 20-yarder to Decker and a 25-yarder to Julius Thomas – tied him with and then broke Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s NFL record of touchdown passes in a single season.
Key moment: Adams’ interception completely changed the complexion of the game, turning a tight contest into a runaway victory as the Broncos reeled off 21-unanswered points to close out the Texans.
It was over when: Manning threw his record-breaking touchdown to Thomas with 4:28 to play, capping the Broncos’ 21-unanswered fourth quarter points.
Key performer: The game where Manning threw his 51st touchdown of the season marked the eighth time of the season that the quarterback threw four-or-more touchdown passes in a game. Manning finished by completing 32-of-51 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Broncos 34, Raiders 14
How it happened: The Broncos wasted little time in wrapping up the AFC's top-overall seed for the playoffs, jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead over the Raiders in a commanding performance. Manning was nearly peerless, completing 25-of-28 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns in the first half of play - including an arching 63-yard bomb to Demaryius Thomas that gave the Broncos a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Raiders never crossed midfield in the entire first half, but late in the second quarter, the Broncos made certain to provide an unforgettable final drive. Pinned at the Denver 11 with 3:26 to play in the half, Manning quickly guided the Broncos 89-yards down the field by completing eight passes - the final of which was a 5-yard touchdown pass to Thomas that set Manning alone as the NFL's all-time single-season passing yardage leader with 5,477 yards.
Key moment: Take your pick: the Broncos became the NFL's all-time highest scoring team when Manning hit Thomas on the 63-yard touchdown pass, but Manning's 5-yarder to Thomas gave the quarterback the NFL's single-season passing yardage record. Both helped Denver seal up the AFC's top seed for a second-consecutive season.
It was over when: Manning made NFL history with his 55th touchdown pass - and he also made sure that the Broncos would finish with a 13-3 record, as Denver's 31-0 halftime lead proved insurmountable.
Key performer: In a season of landmark performances, Manning's first half against the Raiders was arguably the best. The quarterback's 25-of-28 passing mark was good for a career-high 83.9 completion percentage mark, and Manning's 145.8 quarterback rating was just shy of a season best. It was the ninth time of the season that Manning threw four-or-more touchdowns in a game.