Thomas leaped and brought it down with his right hand, then got both feet down inside the line for a touchdown. With that, he joined Eric Decker in Denver's one-handed-touchdown club Sunday and gave the Broncos some otherworldly highlights to go with their home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after a 38-3 runaway over the Kansas City Chiefs.
"They claim they can do that all the time," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who got to watch the replays of both catches about a half-dozen times on the scoreboard. "They say they practice that. I don't see it. But as long as they do it on Sunday, I'm all for it. Those are some great, hard-working boys and I expect nothing less."
Manning, in search of his fifth MVP award and, yes, a second Super Bowl title, finished 23 for 29 for 304 yards, three scores and a 144.8 passer rating. One of his main competitors for the award, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, ran for 199 yards in a 37-34 win over Green Bay that secured a playoff berth.
That one went down to the wire. Manning was out of his game by the fourth quarter.
This was the second straight Sunday he used a grey-and-orange glove to prepare for the cold, playoff weather he could face at home the next two games.
"I threw it OK today, I guess," said Manning, who finished the season with 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and a 105.8 passer rating, all second best in his 15-year career.
Leave it to Manning, ever the perfectionist, to ramp up the degree of difficulty.
On the touchdown to Decker, Manning slightly overthrew the pass but Decker brought the ball into his helmet with his left hand, had it pinball against his facemask twice, then cradled it with both hands as he was falling to the ground.
"Peyton throws the ball up, giving us a chance to make a play. It's our job to catch it," Decker said.
The touchdown to the 6-foot-3 Thomas mirrored a TD pass Manning threw to Decker last week against Cleveland: high in the back of the end zone where only his receiver could catch it.
"That was probably the limit right there," Manning said. "But I've seen him in practice. He can jump. He can really elevate. It's hard to throw it over his head, I'll say that."
The Thomas touchdown made it 28-3 and the celebration was on. The only trip the Broncos will have to make on their road to a championship would be to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. They'll open the playoffs at home the weekend of Jan. 12-13 against Baltimore, Cincinnati or Manning's old team, the Colts.
"It's an accomplishment, but it's something that was a lot of people's work. It wasn't one guy," Fox said.
Nor would Manning take all the credit for all he's accomplished in this, a comeback season in which he admittedly had no expectations.
This marked his 73rd three-touchdown game, surpassing the record held by Brett Favre. Manning closed the regular season only 41 yards short of his career high.
"It's been a gratifying regular season," Manning said. "I will admit that. It is certainly more than I expected. I'm grateful and humble for it."
On the other end of the spectrum are the Chiefs, who finished with 119 yards of offense and wrapped up the first pick in next year's draft.
Coach Romeo Crennel watched the game from the sideline, leaning on a crutch, after having his knee drained of fluid earlier in the week. Many in Kansas City expect him to be unemployed soon.
"I told him it's been a long one," Chiefs defensive lineman Shaun Smith said about his postgame conversation with Crennel. "Sorry it didn't turn out the way (we wanted). I have faith in you and that's all that matters."
NOTES:Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles had 53 yards to finish the season with 1,509. ... Broncos FS Rahim Moore got his first career sack and Von Miller had one to bring his season total to 18.5. ... Hillman wasn't seen against after his fumble. Lance Ball replaced him as Knowshon Moreno's backup and led the team with 66 yards on 15 carries.5F
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press