NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
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.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
Broncos kicker Matt Prater set an NFL record with a 64-yard field goal as the clock expired in the first half Sunday.
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 at halftime.
"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."
--Peyton Manning put his cold weather critics on ice. The Broncos quarterback, who took some criticism this week over his losing record in cold weather games (8-11), delivered one of his best performances in 18-degree weather at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday.
He had a team-record 39 completions, throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Manning was the first quarterback in nine years to throw for at least four touchdowns in game conditions of 20 degrees or less. And he helped the Broncos clinch their 20th postseason berth.
--On top of becoming the first team in NFL history with four players scoring at least 10 touchdowns in a season, the Broncos also have an ace up their sleeve in place-kicker Matt Prater. He helped the Broncos top 50 points for the third time this season by kicking three field goals, including an NFL record 64-yarder just before halftime that gave Denver a huge momentum boost.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's our goal, but our goal is still to win the division and obviously, get the best seed we can. Our biggest goal is to get to the 'big game' (Super Bowl) and win the big game." -- Coach John Fox.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Peyton Manning's 39 completions were the most in a game in Broncos history.
--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.