DENVER -- **Seventeen seasons, 269 career games, 8,659 career passes and 45 different scoring targets led to the 509th touchdown pass that gave Peyton Manning yet another league record in an exquisite career unlike any other in NFL history.
At 7:43 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Sunday, Manning nudged Brett Favre out of the top touchdown spot with an 8-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas. Two weeks after Manning joined Favre as the only players to throw at least 500 touchdown passes, he surpassed him for good when Thomas dragged his right foot in the grass to beat Tramaine Brock for the history-making score.
"I knew I was kind of to the short side of the field, and I knew I had a chance and when I came off the break," said Thomas. "I saw the ball coming and my main thing was just make the play on the ball and keep my feet in bounds."
And with that, Thomas had his 28th touchdown pass from Manning. The two collaboated on a 29th connection, covering 40 yards, one quarter later to break open the game and propel the Broncos to a 42-17 romp over the San Francisco 49ers.
The touchdown, Manning's 110th as a Bronco, came 11:51 into the second quarter. Coincidentally, the record was set against the 49ers -- one of the teams for which Manning worked out in March 2012 after his release from the Indianapolis Colts before signing with the Broncos.
Manning's record pass might have happened one or two plays earlier, when he located Emmanuel Sanders on a post route from 17 yards away, but Brock was flagged for pass interference, moving the football to the 1-yard-line. The Broncos inserted their three-tight end jumbo package, and Manning found Julius Thomas, but the pass skipped off the tight end's hands after he was turned around.
"I really missed it, it was a good route by him, a bad throw," said Manning.
With second-and-goal from the San Francisco 1-yard-line and the Broncos back in the three-wide receiver set from which they ran most of their plays Sunday Manning stumbled as he went back to throw. Some in the 76,863 in attendance gasped as San Francisco rookie linebacker Chris Borland got credit for the sack and 7-yard loss.
"I'm not sure what happened," said Manning. "I don't know if I tripped over the guard or the running back or what. So I think I would've had either DT or possibly Emmanuel [Sanders] on the backside."
"I thought my chance was over," said Demaryius Thomas.
Instead, it only delayed the inevitable.
Signs commemorating the milestone dotted the sellout crowd from the moment it began to arrive pre-game. An expectant buzz built, and continued to rise after Manning found Emmanuel Sanders for a 3-yard touchdown to open the scoring 6:31 into the game.
By the time Wes Welker flew over the goal-line pylon in the northwest corner with Manning's second touchdown pass of the first quarter, the orange throng was in a frothy frenzy. An instant-replay review confirmed the score, which brought Manning into a career deadlock with Favre.
It didn't last long. And while Favre's standards for completions and yardage remain perhaps a year of good health and great play way, Manning's signature was added to yet another league standard, alongside his single-season records for yardage and touchdown passes.
See the historic moment frozen in time with snapshots of Peyton Manning's 509th career touchdown pass.
As with every other accomplishment in Manning's career, the 509th touchdown was built on a foundation of meticulous precision. Even the post-touchdown celebration -- a keep-away among Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Welker and Sanders -- was rehearsed.
"Yeah, we were definitely rehearsing it, but I didn't think that we were going to do it," Sanders said. "I ended up running up to Demaryius -- who had caught the touchdown, of course -- and I was like, 'Let's do it, I don't care, what, what. Let's just do it.'"
"I can't believe they actually did it," added Manning. "We sort of joked about it during the week. I'm a little bit hurt by the fact that they could do that -- that they're kind of picking on me. I've lost my vertical leap; it's not there anymore. My side-to-side agility is not quite as quick so it hurt me, and of course, I probably deserved it based on the non-graceful play in that I tripped and fell on the play before, so it's probably fitting. But that was pretty funny."
And where would his targets learn about such attention to detail, even on the throwaway moments? From No. 18, of course, a man whose photographic memory allows him to recall the most arcane details.
"It happens a lot, at random times," said tight end Jacob Tamme, a teammate of Manning's since 2008 in Indianapolis. "He can pull up a third-and-6 from a playoff game in 2002. I can't even remember what team we were playing, and he remembers the coverage, what the corner did and the call the mike linebacker made before we snapped the ball. It's pretty special."
So is every Manning accomplishment. From this point forward, every touchdown Mhe throws will set a new record. The constant hum of history will become a routine part of Broncos football.
"Every one that we get from now on is a new record. Maybe I can get the new record," said Tamme, smiling.
And if Manning stays healthy and plays out his five-year contract, he has a chance to add to his record and post a number that stands for decades, like Babe Ruth's home-run record in baseball or Don Hutson's touchdown-reception standard of 99. Ruth's mark lingered for 39 years until Henry Aaron blasted No. 715 over the left-center field fence in Atlanta.
The record of Hutson, a player more ahead of his time than perhaps any other in NFL history endured 44 years until the Seahawks' Steve Largent caught his 100th career touchdown pass at Cincinnati in 1989.
Consider what it will take for another player to match Manning's total: an average of 30 touchdown passes a season -- for 17 years. Then note that in the history of the game, there are only 84 seasons in which a quarterback got to 30 scores.
The pass-intensive era of football created a cluster of these seasons: 31 since 2007. But that's 31 of the 270 total, individual seasons in which a quarterback threw at least 150 passes from 2007-2013.
A 30-touchdown year comes 11.5 percent of the time, even in today's aerial circus. And to hit Manning's standard, you need to average that for 17 years.
To all who follow and try to get to 510 touchdown passes -- or wherever Manning ends up -- two words: good luck.
"The way that he's playing, I think he can just go out and average three or four touchdowns a game," said Demaryius Thomas, "and I hope a couple of those come my way."
But while there could be many more record touchdown passes, there is just one singular moment where he moved into first place. That will be remembered for as long as the sport is played.