DENVER- ** It really isn't surprising that the first person to congratulate Peyton Manning on his record-setting, 509th touchdown pass was on the opposing team.
Manning calls the moments after the touchdown "a blur," but the first of many to give him a congratulatory head tap was 49ers' linebacker Aaron Lynch. Lynch was just five years old when Manning was a rookie, but his gesture of congratulating Manning showed the respect that No. 18 has earned * *across the NFL.
While Lynch got to Manning first, a sea of blue followed immediately after as the Broncos congratulated their teammate.
"You kind of get whacked in the head by a lot of people so you try to process some things and I think I'll—with the game Thursday it's hard to take a whole lot of time to reflect but I was able to savor the moment," Manning said. "I was glad it was here at home, here in Denver in front of our home stadium and the fact that we won the game certainly allows it to celebrate it with your teammates, that is what I told the team inside [the locker room].
"It's special because of the way our team played and I appreciate the way our team played tonight getting the victory."
After two touchdown passes in the first quarter, Manning drove the Broncos downfield in the middle of the second and it looked like 509 would come with ease as the team has been one of the best in the red zone. But Manning threw behind Julius Thomas on first down and then was tripped up by Orlando Franklin on second down, forcing the Broncos to face third-and-goal at the 8-yard line.
But the Manning to Demaryius Thomas connection continued and he found Thomas right inside the goal line for the score. "That whole series I think is something I will always remember," Manning said.
While he will never forget that series, the moments after were also memorable as three of his go-to targets – Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker – played a short game of keep away with the record-breaking ball. Manning said he and his teammates joked about carrying out a gag like that earlier in the week, but he was shocked they actually pulled the prank on him.
"That was pretty funny, I enjoyed that and I'll definitely remember a lot of things about tonight but I'll definitely remember that part of it and the fact that they had the guts to go ahead and go through with it," he said.
Manning is known for studying and his knowledge of NFL quarterback history. He referenced a few of the great quarterbacks that came before him in his postgame press conference and noted that he is "very humbled and very honored" to be considered amongst them.
He thanked all of the coaches and teammates that helped him develop throughout his career, both with the Colts and Broncos.
"I have great appreciation for all the players in the NFL playing in the NFL, playing now and have played before us, especially at the quarterback position," Manning said. "I've always been a fan of quarterbacks, whether it's Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway so I'm very honored and humbled to join a pretty unique club and then when you throw in guys like Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton, guys that were my dad's heroes growing up as well, I can put it in some perspective and I have a great appreciation for it."
Heading into this season, Manning passing Favre for the record seemed inevitable. It seemed so certain that 2011, when he underwent multiple neck surgeries, became a distant memory. After his two seasons with the Broncos, where he has led the team to two AFC Championship games and a Super Bowl, the man whose career was in question is nonexistent.
He found a home in Denver and in his two seasons and six games with the Broncos, he has accumulated 111 touchdown passes.
"I've discussed that with some family and friends recently, that I certainly didn't think this would even be a possibility a couple of years ago so I'm very grateful to the Broncos for welcoming me to their organization and for helping me during my career here and it has been a wonderful two-and-a-half years here," Manning said.
See the historic moment frozen in time with snapshots of Peyton Manning's 509th career touchdown pass.
Since becoming a Bronco, Manning has set NFL single-season records in passing yards and touchdown passes, was named NFL MVP in 2013 and runner-up in 2012.
While the individual accolades seem to be never-ending, scoring touchdowns directly correlates with winning, and that is why they are so valuable to Manning, who holds a career winning percentage of approximately 70 percent.
"There's no question it's a team effort and it's a team record because it's helped us win a lot of football games throughout my career," Manning said. "I think it's different when you're talking about yards or something else but I do think, for me, that the touchdowns that I've thrown have helped us win a lot of football games and put a lot of work winning those games. That's the only reason why it's somewhat special."
Manning finished Sunday night's game an outstanding 22-of-26 for 318 yards and four touchdowns. While his game is one for the books (and the record books), there's no disputing that the Broncos played an excellent game in every facet.
The defense contained Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense, allowing them just two touchdown scores, including one with one minute left and the starters already resting comfortably on the sidelines. The Broncos stifled Frank Gore and held him to just 20 yards on nine carries. Heading into the game, the 49ers had been averaging 135.7 yards on the ground, good for seventh in the NFL, and on Sunday they could only muster 62.
While setting the record is something Manning will always cherish, the team's performance under the lights is what he is especially proud of.
"I thought our whole team played really well," Manning said. "I was really excited about offensively the way we executed the game plan. The guys out front did a good job, I thought we ran the ball well. That opened up a lot of things in the passing game, a couple of touchdowns were all play-action and then defensively, getting us the ball back with great field position.
"It was a special night, I think certainly more special because of the way our team played and because we got the win. Such a team effort, it's definitely one I'll always remember."