EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. >> No record this week for Peyton Manning. Just three more touchdown passes, plenty good enough for the Denver Broncos.
Manning connected with Julius Thomas twice and Demaryius Thomas once, leaving him two shy of Brett Favre’s career mark for passing TDs, and the Broncos held on to beat the New York Jets 31-17 on Sunday.
Manning has 506 career touchdown passes, and could tie or break Favre’s record next Sunday at home against San Francisco. He finished 22 of 33 for 237 yards — a far cry from last week’s performance against Arizona, when he passed for a career-high 479 yards with four TDs.
But Manning displayed his methodical best at times in his return to MetLife Stadium, where he and the Broncos (4-1) were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl last February.
Demaryius Thomas finished with 10 catches for 134 yards, and Ronnie Hillman ran for 100 yards on 24 carries.
The Jets (1-5) had a chance to tie when they got the ball deep in their own territory with less than a minute left. But after a sack put the ball at the 1, Geno Smith was intercepted by Aqib Talib, who returned it 22 yards for a sealing touchdown that sent New York to its fifth straight loss.
The struggling Smith, looking to keep his starting job, was 23 of 43 for 190 yards and touchdown passes to Jace Amaro and Eric Decker, with the one interception.
Decker’s 2-yard touchdown pass, his first against his former team, cut the Jets’ deficit to seven at 24-17 with 7:56 left. The drive was kept alive by Greg Salas’ 27-yard grab on third-and-4 from the Broncos 36.
Amaro had 10 catches for 68 yards, while Decker finished with six for 54 yards.
The Broncos got going quickly, with Manning connecting with Demaryius Thomas for 54 yards on Denver’s first play from scrimmage. The Jets’ defense then held the Broncos to a 37-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.
Dee Milliner, New York’s top cornerback, injured his right Achilles tendon during the field goal and sat out the rest of the game. Milliner pounded the turf in pain, and couldn’t put any weight on his leg as he was helped off the field and straight into the locker room.
The Jets also lost starting left guard Brian Winters to a left leg injury, while Denver linebacker Danny Travathon left with a knee injury.
Manning scrambled away from pressure and hit Demaryius Thomas for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter.
The Broncos went 80 yards on nine plays on their next possession, capped by Manning’s perfectly placed 22-yard throw to Julius Thomas that made it 17-7 with 27 seconds left. It was a classic Manning-type drive that ate up yards in a hurry, with completions of 20 yards to Emmanuel Sanders, 12 to Julius Thomas and 14 to Demaryius Thomas before the ball was spiked to stop the clock and set up the score.
Julius Thomas screamed “It’s so easy!” after he caught his second TD pass from Manning midway through the third quarter. The drive was helped by a 26-yard run by Hillman, who fumbled at the end of the play but the Broncos recovered. Sheldon Richardson also was called for a personal foul for unnecessary roughness that made it first-and-goal from the 4 instead of third-and-3 from the 8 one play before the touchdown.
Julius Thomas’ nine touchdown catches are the most by a tight end in NFL history through his team’s first five games.
Amaro’s first NFL touchdown, a 2-yarder, gave the Jets a 7-3 lead with 4:16 left in the opening quarter. Amaro outleaped T.J. Ward in the left corner of the end zone and came down with the ball to give the Jets their first lead in any game since Week 2 at Green Bay. Amaro had catches of 15 and 13 yards on the drive, which also was helped by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Malik Jackson.
Walter Powell muffed a punt, recovered by Denver’s Steven Johnson, and it changed momentum in the second quarter. While Denver didn’t score on the ensuing possession, the field position changed — and let some of the air out of the Jets fans in the stadium.