- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Peyton Manning has Justin Smith and Aaron Lynch in his sights, not Brett Favre.

Chances are the five-time MVP will break Favre’s NFL record for most career touchdown passes Sunday night, however, when the Denver Broncos (4-1) host the San Francisco 49ers (4-2).

Manning has 506, two shy of Favre’s mark, and he’s averaged an NFL-best 2.89 TD throws per game since coming to Denver in 2012. Manning said he only wants to have more points than the 49ers do when it’s all over.

“That’s what I’ve concentrated on, trying to do whatever it takes to win,” he said.

Manning said he wouldn’t mind seeing Ronnie Hillman run for four touchdowns against San Francisco. That would be a shocker, though, because the Broncos have just two running TDs this year to go with Manning’s 15 TD passes.

“Always impressive,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh marveled. “Whenever he takes the field, he’s just great all the time and that speaks volumes for the player that he is and continues to be. Just keeps doing it and doing it and doing it. Great. Great with a capital ‘G’ at the highest level.”

Last week, Jets coach Rex Ryan heaped similar praise upon Manning, calling him “the best offensive coordinator in the league. He just happens to be playing quarterback, and a Hall of Fame quarterback at that.”

Favre told The Associated Press he’s thrilled Manning is about to roar right past him and maybe approach 600 TD tosses by the time he joins him in retirement. After all, Manning reached 500 in his 244th game, 49 fewer than it took Favre.

“I’m not surprised, as well as he’s been playing for so many years,” Favre said.

Manning isn’t the only QB great Favre admires in Denver. He said GM John Elway deserves plenty of credit not only for luring Manning to the Broncos but for surrounding him with a terrific supporting cast.

Tight Julius Thomas leads the league with nine TD catches. Demaryius Thomas had a franchise-best 226-yard game two weeks ago. Emmanuel Sanders is averaging 95 yards and Wes Welker just became the most productive undrafted wide receiver in NFL history.

Favre compared this group to the one Manning had in Indy - Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard - that combined to catch more than half (257) of Manning’s TD passes.

“I think Peyton has that type of cast there in Denver,” Favre said. “Now, he won’t play nearly as long there as he played with the Colts, but he does have an excellent, young cast. Who do you double-team? I mean, my goodness, I have no idea.”

If Manning doesn’t get the record Sunday night, he’ll go for it four nights later against the Chargers.

Other things to keep an eye on Sunday night:

DIFFERENT STROKES: This game features a study in extreme contrasts at quarterback.

The Broncos have the quintessential drop-back passer in Manning, who has minus-7 yards rushing to go with his 1,530 yards passing. The 49ers have multi-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 343 yards and three TDs against St. Louis last week and has added 242 yards rushing, a 5.3-yard average.

“I hope there’s a place for the drop-back quarterback,” Manning said. “At least for a couple more years.”

TERRIFIC THOMAS: Nobody in NFL history has more TD catches through five games than Julius Thomas, who credits his growth this year in part to some friendly advice from Tony Gonzalez, the NFL’s most accomplished tight end before retiring this year.

It’s sure paying off as Thomas is halfway to breaking Rob Gronkowski’s single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end (17 in 2011).

“He’s probably going to break that,” Gonzalez said. “But how is he going to keep improving? I hope that’s what he takes away. He’s just getting started and he’s got another six to eight years to dominate this league and he can become a legendary type player.”

LLOYD RETURNS: Brandon Lloyd, who caught an 80-yard touchdown pass just before halftime against the Rams last week to kick-start the 49ers’ 31-17 comeback victory, is returning to the city where he had the best year of his checkered career.

Lloyd caught 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 TDs in 2010 with Kyle Orton at quarterback.

“His body control was off the charts,” Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase recounted. “I’ve never seen anybody that was able to adjust to throws the way he does, and he made the most of his opportunities no matter who was at quarterback.”

LOSING THEIR LINEBACKERS: The Broncos lost weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan to a broken left leg last week. It was the second time in two months their top tackler from a year ago fractured a bone near his left kneecap. He’s out until mid-December.

The 49ers took a hit, too, last week when Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis suffered a toe injury.

AMERICA’S TEAM: It’s not just Manning’s pursuit of Favre that will have fans tuned in Sunday night. When Denver defensive end DeMarcus Ware was released by the Cowboys last winter, he said goodbye to America’s Team. Or did he?

According to The Harris Poll, which surveyed 2,543 adults, the Broncos are now the country’s most popular NFL team. The Cowboys, who had been No. 1 for six straight years, fell to fourth.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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