The Denver Broncos Revenge Tour 2014 started on fire as the Broncos lit up the scoreboard with three touchdowns and a field goal in the first half while the defense appeared poised for a regular season shutout.
But the Indianapolis Colts cut into the Broncos' 24-0 lead with a quick touchdown just before halftime and then continued their aggravating march toward a comeback win until Broncos' No. 1 draft pick Bradley Roby made the play of the game.
With just over two minutes to play, the rookie corner broke up a 4th and 6 pass to six-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne, saving a likely touchdown and more than earning his rookie paycheck.
Nice form from @BradRoby_1 on that game-winning breakup. #INDvsDEN pic.twitter.com/VziFnbDVVe— Jon Heath (@JonHeathNFL) September 8, 2014
"We came out playing at such a high level...So we set the bar pretty high in first half," said Peyton Manning, who was 22 of 36 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, the best of those stats coming all in the first two quarters. "It was disappointing in the second half [to go] three and out and for whatever reason couldn't get over the hump. ...Thank goodness our defense came up with some big stops."
One score game. Unbelievable.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) September 8, 2014
Though the defense allowed Luck and his receivers to get two quick scores in the fourth quarter and suddenly make the game close, overall there were a lot of bright spots in the D's play, including two goal-line stands and a very alert secondary.
Safety Rahim Moore had not one but two - two! - interceptions on the night which were largely due to some heads-up play by Aqib Talib, while Roby's seven tackles and three passes defended was anything but rookie-like.
"It was tight at the very end," Roby said after the game. "We said, ‘We've got to make a play to win the game. We can't rely on the offense. It's on us.' Defense wins the game. We went back out there and did what we needed to do."
And as if it isn't great enough that Roby is playing like a second- or third-year guy, he's also talking like one.
"It's a team effort. It's not offense or defense. It's the Broncos together," Roby said. "We've got to pick each other up. If one side is struggling, the other side has to pick it up. It's a whole team effort. I think we did that today."
Though the first half made it look easy for both offense and defense, the third quarter was pretty ugly and luckily the offense was able to get a fourth score and the defense was able to come up with some big stops to prevent a Colts comeback.
"We understand that it's a four-quarter battle no matter what the score is, because it's the National Football League. Everyone playing is elite," said running back Montee Ball, who scored the Broncos' fourth TD with an incredible third effort after breaking two tackles. "You can't relax ... we're going to focus on keeping the pedal to the metal and keep playing all four quarters."
GIF: Montee Ball believes he can fly (req @dwhlee) http://t.co/6mIfpgWc6N— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 8, 2014
Tight end Julius Thomas said "absolutely" the game should have been over much earlier. Thomas did his part to put the game away, scoring all three of the Broncos passing touchdowns.
Thomas also tied Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe for most touchdowns in a game by a Broncos tight end. (Sharpe, who holds the team record for most touchdowns by a tight end with 55, also scored three touchdowns in a game three different times).
"Offensively, for all the good we did, we also have some things we need to coach up and improve upon. We have to do our job and that's to pick up first downs and to run that clock out," Thomas said. "Hats off to our defense - they did a tremendous job of bailing us out time and time again in this game. We couldn't have done it without them, and I was excited to see those guys getting after it."
In his regular season #Broncos debut, veteran defensive end @DeMarcusWare had 1.5 sacks. That'll do. (AP Photo) pic.twitter.com/5oAibLqrle— Jon Heath (@JonHeathNFL) September 8, 2014
For their part, the defense was also apologetic for some lapses in the second half.
"I think it's [headed in] the right direction," said DeMarcus Ware, the former Cowboy who registered 1.5 sacks in his Broncos debut. "We have to always put four quarters together. We were able to do that. It wasn't the perfect four quarters that we wanted, but we can improve on it next week."
Although Von Miller admitted to be winded out there last night and promised to get the conditioning done to improve on that, the second half of the Ware-Miller duo was also optimistic.
"After every game you feel like you could have done more, but at the end of the day I felt like I set a great foundation for the rest of the season," Miller said. "I'm confident. It was great to be back out there with my guys. Just ready to get back in the lab and get ready for Kansas City."
Moore, who came up big with two interceptions and a TD-saving tackle on Indy's Ahmad Bradshaw who seemed to be unstoppable last night, tempered his enthusiasm over his big play.
"It was good, but I want us to lead the league in victories," said Moore, who will be striving to show Broncos Country this year that he was worth his second-round pick in 2011. "I want us to lead the league in turnovers. I'm not worrying about myself. I want us to play great football, and I want us to keep winning. When you're winning, opportunities are going to come."
Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who led the team in tackles along with Roby at seven, noted that regardless of the second-half letdowns, the Broncos defense is fired up. The two goal-line stands, holding a very prolific Colts offense to just three points on those two drives, is a moral victory they don't take for granted.
"It does wonders. It gives us confidence, and it just helps us get our swagger, so to speak," Marshall said. "We did great early. We just have to keep trying to learn how to finish, keep finishing and just work every day in practice."
A win is a win is a win. Not our best effort but mission accomplished. 1-0— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) September 8, 2014
Not taking wins for granted is something Manning believes very strongly in.
"It wasn't a perfect game by any means, but I had an old coach, Jim Mora, who said, ‘Don't ever take winning for granted' and sometimes people do it, so I've learned not to do it," Manning said. "We will learn from the mistakes that we made and hopefully be better next week than we were this week."
That's exactly how defensive end Derek Wolfe plans to view the game.
"Once you get that first one under your belt, it's a little easier to get that second one, so hopefully we just keep rolling, just try to get better every week and keep playing games."