DENVER — In the span of about five minutes, Peyton Manning threw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon, Von Miller knocked the opposing quarterback out of the game and the Denver Broncos completely demoralized the tenacious-but-overmatched Cleveland Browns.
During that third-quarter flurry Sunday, the Broncos looked a lot like the best team in the AFC, and with one more Sunday like this one, they could go into the playoffs as just that.
Manning threw for a season-high 339 yards and three scores and Miller was in on two sacks, the second of which ended Brandon Weeden’s day, leading Denver to a 34-12 win — a victory that pulled the Broncos (12-3) into a tie with Houston for the best record in the conference.
Miller finished with 1½ sacks to move to 17½ for the season, beating Elvis Dumervil’s franchise record by half a sack.
The Broncos carry a 10-game winning streak, second longest in franchise history, into the final week at home against Kansas City (2-13). The Texans, who hold the tiebreaker against Denver, have lost two of three and they close the season at Indianapolis (10-5).
Manning finished 30 for 43 and has 4,355 yards this season, moving him past John Elway and Jake Plummer for second on the franchise’s single-season passing list. He wasn’t perfect — he threw an interception late in the first half for Denver’s first turnover inside the opponent’s 10-yard line all season — but when he was clicking, the Broncos couldn’t be stopped, at least not by Cleveland (5-10).
His first two touchdown throws came with Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown draped all over the Denver receivers and only the smallest of windows available for Manning to hit. But he hit them. The first went to Demaryius Thomas for 22 yards, the second to Eric Decker for 10, and the Broncos had a 14-3 lead after their first two possessions.
Both passes wrapped up 80-yard drives in which Manning ran his version of the hurry-up, getting the offense to the line quickly, barking out audibles, switching from runs to passes, then back again. He even once used cadence to draw an offside penalty on third-and-2 to keep a drive going.
The Broncos passed the 30-point mark for the 10th time this season.
Oh, there were frustrations. Denver finished with a season-high 11 penalties; the interception that ended the second-quarter drive; Broncos kick returners bobbled the ball twice, but recovered both; and Browns lineman Billy Winn plowed guard Zane Beadles into Manning, altering the trajectory of a pass 30 feet into the air for an incompletion.
Manning pounded his orange-gloved fist into the turf after that one.
Meanwhile, Weeden and Browns running back Trent Richardson (nine carries, 53 yards), both rookies, showed signs of how good they might be some day.
With the help of a questionable personal foul call against Champ Bailey, Weeden poked his way to a 45-yard drive for a field goal that cut Cleveland’s deficit to 14-6 early in the third quarter.
But Manning responded with a 91-yard touchdown drive, highlighted when he threw a dart that slammed off Decker’s hands and dropped into those of receiver Brandon Stokley. Just another Broncos first down — and another sign this was not Cleveland’s day.
Two plays later, Manning hit Decker for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 21-6.
Three plays after that, Miller slammed Weeden to the turf, injuring his right shoulder. Weeden slammed his helmet to the ground on the sideline and walked slowly to the locker room — his day complete after going 12 for 19 for 104 yards.
Manning had surpassed that total after his second pass of the second quarter. And it got worse from there. Late in the fourth quarter, Richardson had to be carted off the field with a left ankle injury; the Browns offered no report on the injury.