Finally, the game we had all been waiting for was here. Broncos at Colts, Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis.
The week before the game was absolutely crazy, it began to feel as though it was Peyton Manning against the Indianapolis Colts - no one else mattered. The play of Andrew Luck, the return of Von Miller, everyone took a backseat to the circus.
Don't think the Colts didn't notice.
After the jump, we'll take a look at the performance of the Colts' offense, defense and special teams and we'll give you our players of the game for both sides of the ball.
The Colts offense returned to their classic slow starts. Their first drive ended in a 3 and out after three straight runs and their second drive included a sack and another punt.
After scoring a FG and after recovering a fumble, the Colts offense had a 1st down on Denver's 11-yard line. A well-designed play left Darrius Heyward Bay wide open and he would score his 1st TD as a Colt. Nice job, Pep.
Down by two, the Colts would have good field position again. Pep's obsession of involving FB Stanley Havili in the passing game would finally pay off. Havili took a short pass from Luck to the end zone to make it 19-14. It was cool and all, but I'm not sure they should try to do that again very often.
Right before the half, Luck would orchestrate a 2-minute drive to score another TD to Fleener to extend their lead to 12 points. The Colts weren't just keeping up with the best offense in the league. They were dominating the game.
With less than 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the offense again enjoyed great field position inside Denver's territory. Luck would score his 4th and Indy's final TD of the game, this time on a 10 yard run, extending the Colts lead to 19 points.
Unfortunately, the 4th quarter wasn't great for the offense. Up 36-23, Trent Richardson fumbled the freaking football on Indy's own 23-yard line. Denver recovered and reduced Indy's lead to 6 points.
Luckily, the Colts were able to capitalize after Angerer's interception and scored the FG that would make the difference in the game, giving them their 5th win of the season.
Trent Richardson had yet another bad game as a Colt. His fumble in the 4th quarter almost ruined the game for the Colts. If it wasn't for Ronnie Hillman and the Colts defense, the outcome of the game might've been very different. It's frustrating to look at him doing little to nothing every week. If you're lucky, you get a couple good runs from him every game and that's about it. It's a lot worse when you remember (not that it's easy to forget) that Grigson gave up next year's 1st round pick for him. As of today, Donald Brown is the better RB without a doubt. Fans shouldn't give up on him yet, but Richardson needs to improve FAST. Hopefully the bye week will help him.
Andrew Luck stole the show tonight with 3 TD passes and another one on the ground. But the night was far from perfect: Reggie Wayne suffered a season ending injury (torn ACL) trying to catch a poorly thrown ball in a play that should've ended in a TD. That is one tough blow for the Colts.
Other than a weak running game and Reggie's injury the Colts offense had a great game. Where was this team against San Diego?
Offensive player of the game: Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck keeps amazing us week after week. He had a fantastic night with 228 yards passing, 29 yards rushing, 3 TDs through the air and one on the ground. On Peyton's night, Luck stole the show.
Everyone was worried about the defense facing the greatest QB in the league and all the weapons he had available.
They played hard from the start, forcing a 3 and out in Denver's first possession. The problem is, the Broncos are just too good offensively.
With under 12 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, the defense had already allowed 14 points. But the defense didn't crumble. Instead, they bounced back pretty quickly.
Down 14-10, with the Broncos deep in their own field, Robert Mathis would hit Peyton Manning, forcing a fumble. The Colts weren't able to recover the ball inside the end zone, so they "only" got a safety, but it was still a HUGE play for the defense. One of the most important plays for the Colts in the entire game. The Broncos wouldn't score again until late in the 3rd quarter.
Obviously, it was far from over. Peyton would catch fire late in the 3rd quarter. The Broncos would eventually score 13 points and make it 36-30. In one of those series, Manning only needed 3 plays (80 yards) and 48 seconds to score a TD. The crowd knew that no lead is a safe lead against Peyton Manning. The defense needed yet another big play and they delivered.
With the scoreboard still reading 36-30, the Broncos got the ball back. As they did all night long, the Colts came up big in key situations and kept the pressure on Peyton Manning. Erik Walden would get a hand on him as he was passing. The ball got up in the air and Pat Angerer intercepted it.
But that wasn't it. Down by 9, Manning drove the ball again to the Colts 2 yd line. Walden would make yet another huge play. He would force a fumble after hitting Ronnie Hillman and the Colts recovered. After that, the Broncos scored 3 more points, but it wasn't enough. Whew...
There's only one way to describe the defense in this game: incredible. They played hard the entire game, allowing just 17 points in 3 quarters against the NFL's best offense. They pressured Manning like no other team had in a long time. They sacked him 4 times, forced two fumbles, got a safety and intercepted a pass. They came up with big plays at the right time. They were disciplined against the run and against the pass.
I don't think a lot of people expected them to perform so well. Even Erik Walden had a couple of GREAT plays!
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Robert Mathis (honorable mention: Vontae Davis and Darius Butler)
He sacked Peyton Manning twice and forced the fumble that would result in a safety. After that safety, the Broncos wouldn't score again until late in the 4th quarter. Mathis is always intense. This time though, he took it to a different level.
Not a good start for the STs. Pat McAfee's first punt gave the Broncos good field position and earned a lot of boos from the stands.
Fortunately, he'd bounce back.
The Colts did a great job against the game's best returner, Trindon Holliday. Stanley Havili forced a fumble, giving the Colts the ball on the Bronco's 11 yard line.
On the very next kickoff, Holliday was close to taking it to the end zone but around the 50 yd line, McAfee would make an insane tackle that fired up the crowd and the STs for the rest of the game. Holliday disappeared in the 2nd half.
McAfee's punts often put the Broncos inside their own 20 yard line. Denver would lose the football twice -a fumble resulting in a safety and an interception- in such conditions.
Vinatieri finished with 3 FGs.
I love how Luck steals the show... but doesn't look THAT good doing it. He's going to get so much better
So..... just to poke the bear, what does everyone think of Irsay's comment that you need to want two SB rings if you're going to be a Colt?
Apropos the possibility of yet more trades, I wonder if the low cost of rookies encourages the NFL to become more like NBA and embrace more wheeling and dealing. If the Colts have success this year it might breed copycats.
On the Havili score....don't you think that gives the opposing D coordinator something extra (and unnecessary) to worry about? Now they know that is a weapon that isn't just there sitting, they know it can bite.
Nice recap. What's up with McAfee, who seems to start every game I see with a shanked punt, only to finish the game with six inside the 20 and a 48 gross average? He's a huge talent, but doesn't this guy warm up?
We might give an honorable mention grade to Vickerson (#99) of the Broncos for his THREE 15-yard personal foul penalties. We had a fair amount of balls bounce our way the other night.
It might be insane, but as of now, I am convinced we have as good a chance as anybody to get HFA throughout the playoffs. It means we have to beat KC in KC (no small feat) and that whoever wins the AFCW has to have the same number of losses as us (my optimistic guess, 3). That might not happen, either but there is still a lot of battling going on between Den, KC, and SD and KC has not really faced a good opponent (or starting caliber QB) yet. Or we get the 2nd seed and the 1st seed loses their divisional playoff game (while we win), sending the AFCCG to Indy.
Damn, the things I waste my time contemplating during bye weeks.... Just a couple hours ago I calculated the Pythagorean wins YTD for a dozen teams. I was on the verge of trying to use Football outsiders past and future schedule rankings to figure out how my Pyth results would project forward, then realized I have other stuff to do in life.
@hankster Maybe its just me but I thought he made those comments to take the heat off of his team and put it on him the media and broncos were so worried about what irsay said they left the team alone. I do not think Irsay is as dumb as he looks most of the time.
@hankster Playing billionaire's advocate here. Who cares what anybody outside thinks? He's motivating his team. They all want to win rings, be champions, become a "dynasty", make their mark on the game. It's not about disrespecting Peyton or Polian or Dungy. It's about the present, urgent need to win. It looks to me like Irsay thinks this team has a shot. He is so hyped right now.
I hope wheeling and dealing works this year. That would mean Richardson pulled his head out of his ass. It just seems so risky to throw around high draft picks on a regular basis. Hoarding draft picks like the 9ers and the Pats would be my style. The Vontae Davis trade is looking better. The Richardson trade is a little smelly... so far. But, we're stuck with him for the moment, so why not root for him? It took Donald Brown a minute to find his NFL sea legs. Here's to hoping Trent gets his act together and runstowin!
@Bobman1 I'm a long ways away from contemplating HFA. Looking forward more to winning the division for the first time since Manning led us there. All we need to do is kick that off with beating our division foes.