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Broncos trounce Titans behind Manning, Prater
DENVER -- Quarterback Peyton Manning gave the boot to concerns over his cold-weather play, and kicker Matt Prater's leg provided the exclamation point.
Prater set an NFL record with a 64-yard field goal, and Manning led a go-ahead, 24-point blitz after Denver fell behind early as the Broncos rallied past the Tennessee Titans 51-28 on an icy Sunday.
"He's been playing great his entire career, and to come out there and put 50 points on the board, it kind of put the cold thing down," Broncos tight end Julius Thomas said of Manning, who completed 39 of 59 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Manning's performances in the cold came under scrutiny because the 37-year-old veteran entered the day with an 8-11 career record in games played with a temperature of 40 or below. At kickoff Sunday, it was 18 degrees, but Manning certainly quieted the concerns.
"I wasn't trying to answer it because I didn't give it validation in the first place," Manning said. "We had a good plan, and I thought we threw the ball well and guys caught the ball well."
The victory in coach John Fox's return to the sideline allowed the Broncos (11-2) to clinch a playoff berth and remain undefeated at home. Fox missed the previous month after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery.
"It's great to be back," Fox said. "I really forgot how fun that was."
Manning helped make it so with four scoring passes: 1 yard to wide receiver Wes Welker, 8 yards to Julius Thomas, 4 yards to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and 20 yards to wide receiver Eric Decker (eight catches 117 yards).
Welker suffered a concussion before halftime and did not return to action. He took a hit to the head when he dived for a pass as safety Bernard Pollard came in to break up the play.
Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 172 yards on 13-of-24 passing. He connected on a 41-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Justin Hunter and a 57-yard completion to Hunter that set up another score. Hunter finished with four catches for 114 yards.
"We knew coming into this game we were going to have to put the pedal to the metal all game long," Fitzpatrick said. "Even though we had a lead in the first half, we knew they were going to put up a lot of points in the second half. We've seen them do that a lot this year."
And it happened quickly, leaving the Titans (5-8) with their fourth loss in five games.
Down 21-10 after running back Shonn Greene ran 28 yards for his second touchdown of the day in the second quarter, the Broncos ran off 24 straight points to surge back in front.
"We were doing well at the beginning, but they took off like a rocket," Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said.
Manning started the flurry late in the second quarter with a drive that ended in the scoring pass to Julius Thomas, who was back after missing the previous two games with a right knee injury.
After forcing a Tennessee punt, the Broncos got the ball on their 29-yard line back with 31 seconds left in the second quarter and no timeouts. Manning completed passes to Demaryius Thomas and tight end Jacob Tamme, with Tamme getting out of bounds at the Tennessee 46 to stop the clock with three seconds remaining.
Fox then sent Prater onto the field.
Taking dead aim on history, Prater got plenty of leg into the kick and sent it right on course, and the ball narrowly cleared the crossbar, pulling the Broncos within 21-20 as time expired in the first half.
"I knew I hit it pretty good, but I wasn't sure with the cold and everything if it was going to get there," Prater said. "I saw the ref's hands go up and I can't even explain what I felt after."
The kick eclipsed the previous field-goal record of 63 yards, originally set by the New Orleans Saints' Tom Dempsey against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 8, 1970, and matched on three other occasions, most recently by the San Francisco 49ers' David Akers against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 9, 2012.
"It was awesome, because the whole team almost rushed the field after the kick," Prater said. "It was definitely a momentum swing."
Buoyed by Prater's heroics, the Broncos scored successive third-quarter touchdowns. Manning culminated the opening drive of the second half with a short touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas that put the Broncos in front for the first time, 27-21, with 11:58 remaining in the third quarter.
The Broncos' defense pitched in on the next score. Linebacker Von Miller tipped a Fitzpatrick pass that was intercepted by nose tackle Terrance Knighton, leading to running back Knowshon Moreno's 1-yard touchdown run.
After Hunter's long scoring catch pulled the Titans to 34-28, Prater kicked his third field goal of the day, a 19-yarder, following running back Chris Johnson's fumble.
Manning later connected with Decker, upping the Broncos' lead to double digits with 9:12 left to play.
Denver running back Montee Ball closed the scoring out with a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:12 remaining, lifting the Broncos past the 50-point threshold for the third time this season.
NOTES: QB Peyton Manning's 39 completions were the most in a game in Broncos history. ... Titans WR Kenny Britt was listed among the team's inactive players as a healthy scratch. ... Broncos CB Champ Bailey missed a 10th game this season because of a lingering foot injury. ... In a pregame ceremony, the Sports Authority Field press box was renamed in honor of Jim Saccomano, the Broncos' media relations executive who is retiring after 36 years with the organization. ... Julius Thomas made his 11th touchdown catch of the season, the most by a tight end in Denver history. ... Titans RB Chris Johnson had a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He needs one more rushing touchdown to become the third player in team history with 50. Eddie George and Earl Campbell also achieved the milestone.