KUSA - With another big third quarter and a dash of special teams, the Denver Broncos set the team record for points in a game Sunday and squelched any hopes of a Philadelphia Eagles' second-half comeback in a 52-20 victory.
The Broncos, who have combined for 59 points in the third quarters this season, led 21-13 at halftime but scored on three consecutive possessions (and made 15 first downs) as quarterback Peyton Manning continued his NFL record start.
In the third quarter, Manning tied then set the league record for touchdown passes in the first four games of a season. He now has 16 TD passes this season and no interceptions. He equals Milt Plum (1960, Cleveland Browns) to open a season with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Manning tied the four-game TD mark with a 1-yard toss to Demaryius Thomas on the first drive of the second half and set the record on the next possession with a 15-yard pass to Thomas for a 35-13 lead. He added a third TD pass in the quarter when he connected with Wes Welker from 4 yards out for a 42-13 lead.
"Our offense wants to start fast and finish fast," Thomas said. "However many points we got up there, it is what it is."
The previous record of 14 TD passes in four games was held by three players: Sammy Baugh in 1943, Don Meredith in 1966 and Kurt Warner in 1999.
Manning, who finished the game 28-of-34 passing for 327 yards, has an NFL-record 24 career games with four TD passes. He gave way to backup Brock Osweiler in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't just the offense that got into the end zone. The special teams scored twice - first on Trindon Holliday's 105-yard kickoff return - then in the fourth quarter when Steven Johnson blocked a punt and returned 17 yards for a 49-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"The protection has been solid," Manning said. "We're playing fast, getting a lot of plays in, very few third downs today, which means we're doing a good job on first and second downs. And the receivers are doing a good job of getting yards after the catch, getting first downs and touchdowns. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Denver ran 71 plays, had 35 first downs and was 5-of-8 on third-down conversions.
The Broncos, who have won a team-record 15 consecutive regular-season games, have scored 179 points in the first four games, which is second only to the NFL-record 183 points set by the 1968 Dallas Cowboys.
"We have high expectations for ourselves and want to go out there and score a lot of points," Welker said. "We were able to do that today."
Denver's 52 points were the most against an Eagles team since the New York Giants scored 62 in 1972.
"We may have to give ole' Thunder an IV after this one," Manning said of the team mascot that runs onto the field after each score.
New England's Tom Brady holds the NFL season record with 50 touchdown passes in 2007; Manning had the record with 49 TD passes in 2004 with Indianapolis. Before that, the record was 48, set by Miami's Dan Marino in 1984.
As soon as the Eagles got on the scoreboard, Holliday ran through the Eagles. He returned the kickoff 105 yards in 12 seconds for a Broncos' 14-3 lead with 5:50 left in the first quarter.
"After I broke the first wave and I see it's just me and the kicker I feel like I have it," Holliday said. "It's very exciting. There's nothing like it."
Thanks to Holliday's return, the Broncos had just one offensive possession in the first quarter and went 69 yards for a 7-0 lead when Manning found Welker on a 6-yard TD pass. Welker has caught a TD pass in every game this season, becoming the first Bronco since Al Denson in 1969 to open the season with TD catches in the first four games.
"Holliday's return was great but it does keep us off the field," Manning said. "For whatever reason, we weren't as sharp after that lull as we needed to be."
The Eagles' high-powered offense did become the first in NFL history to have 1,000 yards passing and 750 yards rushing in the first four games.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick finished the game 14-of-27 passing for 248 yards and another 41 yards on eight carries.
"These guys work hard all week," Broncos coach John Fox said. "To do some of the things they do, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of studying, a lot of practice."
Denver next plays Sunday at Dallas, which dropped to 2-2 after a 30-21 loss at San Diego.
"Our offense is doing well, but we're playing well as a football team," Fox said. "Right now we're one quarter into a season. We have a lot of improving. Now we need to get ready to go to Dallas."
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