DENVER | Fall behind by 20. Lose by six. Take away those ugly interceptions and this failed comeback should have felt plenty familiar to Peyton Manning.
For the second straight game, Manning’s comeback from way down came up short for the Denver Broncos.
Matt Schaub threw for four touchdowns against a confused Broncos defense Sunday to stake the Houston Texans to a big lead on the way to a 31-25 victory.
Houston reached 3-0 for the first time in the franchise’s 11-season history and beat Manning for only the third time in 19 tries — and for the first time ever in a road game.
Manning finished 25 for 51 for 310 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns. Both scores and 100 of those yards came after the Broncos (1-2) had fallen behind by 20, the way they did in Atlanta last Monday when their rally came up short in a 27-21 loss.
In that game, the Denver defense couldn’t get Manning the ball back at the end. This time, it did, but the drive started at the 14-yard line with 20 seconds left and ended with a lost fumble after Broncos receivers tried lateraling at midfield on the last play.
Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter of the Atlanta game to match his worst quarter in 15 years in the NFL. This time, it was the Denver defense’s mistakes, not his own, that put him in the hole.
Schaub took advantage of blown coverages to connect with Andre Johnson for a 60-yard score and Kevin Walter for a 52-yard touchdown en route to a 21-5 lead in the second quarter.
After the second score, starting cornerback Tracy Porter was not seen on the field again. Porter, who returned an interception for a touchdown in Denver’s only win this year — the season opener against Pittsburgh — spent the rest of the game guarding the Gatorade table on the sideline.
Schaub’s final touchdown was a 14-yard pass to tight end Owen Daniels, who was locked in one-on-one coverage against a slower defender, linebacker Von Miller. It gave the Texans a 31-11 lead — placing the Houston defense in the prevent and Manning into desperation mode.
His best downfield throw was the 38-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley that pulled the Broncos within 31-18 with 9:49 left in the game. His second score was a 6-yard touchdown that ricocheted into Joel Dreessen’s hands with 3 minutes left.
There were no interceptions, but that’s not to say Houston didn’t have its way with the 36-year-old quarterback, who came into the game with 42 career touchdowns against the team he started beating when it was in its expansion season, back in 2002.
Manning’s biggest headache in this one was second-year defensive end J.J. Watt, who finished with 2.5 sacks and forced a holding call in the third quarter that nullified a 36-yard gain.
Arian Foster finished with 105 yards on 25 carries for Houston. The Texans converted on their first four third downs and went ahead 14-5 when Schaub hit Foster, being covered by defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson, for a 3-yard score that Foster celebrated by blowing kisses to the crowd.