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Incomplete passes hold back Broncos this time

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One week, it's interceptions. The next, it's incompletions.

In a 31-25 loss to Houston on Sunday, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw 26 incompletions, the most he's had in a single game over his 15-year career.

"It's a 'We' thing," Manning said after the loss. "It's not an individual thing. We're all in it together now."

Indeed, no single person can be responsible for that many footballs hitting the turf.

A review of the 26 incompletions looked like this:

—Manning overthrew seven passes.

—Broncos receivers dropped four.

—Manning underthrew four.

—Four hit Houston defenders in the hands but were dropped.

—Manning grounded three to stop the clock or avoid a sack.

—He had two deflected by defenders in coverage.

—One got batted down at the line.

—One was on the money to receiver Demaryius Thomas, who couldn't get his second foot down in the back of the end zone.

Of all the errors, the drops stood out the most. Coach John Fox said the team consistently works on trying to eliminate those types of mistakes.

"It's just something we have to work to get better at and get a little more used to each other," Fox said at his news conference Monday. "Any time you get your hands on a ball as a receiver, they call it a drop. Sometimes there are high throws or low throws. With timing and experience, it gets better."

Manning also completed 26 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a respectable quarterback rating of 83.0 and no interceptions, which certainly takes some of the heat off after three picks in the first quarter last week against Atlanta.

His 50 percent completion rate was about 15 points below his career average but Fox said he saw some progress from his star QB.

"I thought he played better," Fox said. "Just statistically speaking, and this isn't dogging Atlanta at all, because they're a very good defense, too. But that was a pretty salty defense we played yesterday."

The Texans defense came into Sunday having surrendered fewer yards and points than anyone in the league through two games. That didn't hold after the third game, though Manning amassed 120 of his yards and both touchdown throws after the Broncos had fallen behind by 20 late in the third quarter.

Before that, the Houston defense had his receivers blanketed for much of the day — accounting for a number of the off-target passes — and was a constant presence in the backfield, knocking down Manning six times and sacking him three more.

"He got banged around in the pocket more than I'd like to see," Fox said. "We were maybe a little inconsistent in our ability to run the ball. That put us in a little bit more third-and-unmanageable distances that are never fun for any offensive line."

While Manning's problems in the Falcons loss were self-inflicted, it was the defense that helped put him in a hole in this one.

Matt Schaub threw touchdown passes of 60 and 52 yards to help the Texans build a 21-5 lead. Andre Johnson caught the first pass. Kevin Walter caught the second. The first time, cornerback Tracy Porter was supposed to get help from the safety. The second time he wasn't. Fox said Porter had a nagging knee injury that got worse after the first score. He didn't return to the field after the second one.

"It wasn't like a mystery," Fox said. "It was the same route, two different people, something we've seen. We didn't execute as well as we needed to."

The plus side, once again, was the way the Broncos came back at the end. After falling behind by 20 for the second straight week, they rallied to within a score.

Helped by a couple of pass interference calls, Manning moved the Broncos 49 and 74 yards for touchdowns in the final 10 minutes. His 38-yard pass to Brandon Stokley was a strike down the center of the field. Though he underthrew a few passes to the sideline, Manning didn't warble many in this game.

The pass to Stokley and the near touchdown to Thomas earlier were examples of the quality, pressure throws the quarterback can make — signs that, physically at least, he could be back to full health after missing a season with multiple neck operations. The drops and the missed connections on some of the overthrows and underthrows were signs that there's still work to be done.

"We have to study this tape and study what it is we're doing wrong," Manning said Sunday after the game. "Study anything that we are doing well and try to build off that. But I think it's still part of the process. It's hard to think about anything, really, besides losing two games in a row in tough fashion."

NOTES: Fox said all the players injured in Sunday's game — WR Matt Willis (hamstring), RB Willis McGahee (ribs), LB Nate Irving (concussion), CB Tracy Porter (knee bruise) and TE Jacob Tamme (groin) — were "day to day moving forward." ... WR Eric Decker got booed when he opted for a hook slide after catching a pass in the middle of the field at the end of the third quarter. Asked to explain it, Fox said, "I think you have to ask Eric that. I can't tell you exactly what he saw." ... Fox defended LB Joe Mays' vicious hit on Texans QB Matt Schaub that cost the quarterback a chunk of his ear and is expected to cost Mays some major money from the NFL. "I know this: He doesn't do it intentionally to hurt him," Fox said. "That's not Joe Mays. That's not what we teach. It's accidental. Playing football. You see it around the league every week."