- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: On a day when things were tougher than many had anticipated, the Broncos got the division title they wanted as well as a first-round bye by virtue of the win and Kansas City's loss to Indianapolis.
Stock watch: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning came into the game on the doorstep of several single-season records, including touchdowns and passing yards. He threw his 48th, 49th, 50th and 51st touchdown passes of the season to break the record set by Tom Brady in 2007. And while the Texans were effective much of the day, slowing the Broncos to field goals in the red zone, Manning still had 296 yards passing by halftime on the way to his 12th 300-yard game of the season. It was also his eighth game of the season with at least four touchdown passes.
Mix and match: The Broncos continued to stir things up on defense with a bevy of personnel groupings as they try to search for answers on the brink of the postseason. They rotated several players at safety depending on down and distance, used Jeremy Mincey at defensive end just five days after he signed with the team, and had Champ Bailey in the lineup for just the fourth time this season. Bailey didn’t play in the base defense but did appear in all of the specialty packages.
Miller injured: Broncos linebacker Von Miller left the game in the middle of the first quarter with a left knee injury and didn’t return. Miller will be evaluated on Monday, but his absence could be seen in the team’s pass rush, and it would be a significant concern if he misses time. The Broncos struggled to get pressure with four rushers after Miller’s departure and had to take far more chances to get to Matt Schaub, adding defensive backs to the mix. It left some openings in coverage, and that trade-off will be an issue if Miller is out for any significant time.
What’s next: The Broncos wrap up the regular season in Oakland against a Raiders team limping to the finish. The Broncos would like to end the regular season as healthy as possible, but they haven’t always been sharp down the stretch and need to smooth out a few rough edges. That's especially true on defense, where they continue to look for the groupings that will give them some success.