The Denver Broncos' 2014 season ended Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts marched into town and made beating Peyton Manning look easy.
It shouldn't have been all about "beating Peyton Manning." The Broncos were built to be, and morphed into, a defensive, run-the-football team in 2014. But 13 points later, with Indianapolis scoring all of 24, the Broncos will go home with their heads held low, and with plenty of questions entering the 2015 offseason.
But we'll have all offseason to talk about those questions and the changes that could be coming. Let's talk about the game today.
After quick strikes to Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas led to a 7-0 Broncos lead, Manning was off in the first half, particularly in the second quarter, when he threw six straight incomplete passes and the Broncos offense averaged a meager 1.4 yards per pass. Demaryius Thomas didn't help matters in Q2, what with two drops on short passes with no defenders around.
But the repeated insistence to go after go-routes by Manning and/or Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was head-scratching to say the least.
Peyton Manning, missing go-route after go-route #Broncos https://t.co/RzCcR9LRqm— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) January 11, 2015
On the other side of the field, Andrew Luck was too well-protected and T.Y. Hilton too open for the Broncos to slow the Colts offense down. Luck hit Dwayne Allen for a three-yard touchdown pass, aided by an Aqib Talib defensive holding penalty in the end zone on the previous 3rd down. The Broncos went into halftime down 14-10.
It took awhile for things to get better, too. Manning and the Broncos went 3 and out to start the second half, twice, falling behind 21-10.
Then, on fourth down, C.J. Anderson did this.
A field goal later, it was 21-13 Colts (and a one-score game). Then, the Broncos defense did this.
#Broncos blitz, eh? @ChrisHarrisJr: pass defense. Aqib Talib: pass defense. @BossWard43: pass defense.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) January 12, 2015
But Peyton Manning couldn't capitalize. The offense's struggles continued with another 3-and-out. Then Andrew Luck did this.
It was one play among many in a terribly efficient, clock-killing, eight-minute drive that ended in an Indianapolis field goal and again gave the Colts a 24-13 lead with four minutes to play.
And that would do it. Despite faint glimmers of hope, the Broncos could not suddenly come up with 11 points to tie the game in four minutes when they struggled to get 13 in 56. The Broncos remained down 11 points with 34 seconds left on the clock when Manning spiked the football and relented to the inevitable: another crushing postseason loss. A Colts sack and a D.T. catch-and-run ended Denver's comeback attempt, and the Broncos lost 24-13.
Peyton Manning finished 26 of 46 for 211 yards (a miserable 4.6-yard average that was actually boosted by Denver's final drive's stat-padding), one touchdown, no interceptions, and a 75.5 passer rating. As far as passer ratings go, Andrew Luck didn't finish much better (76.2), but his two interceptions were basically 3rd down punts. I expect the efficiency measurements of each quarterback (like QBR) will tell a different tale.
The Broncos defense, stifling for most of the year, utterly failed to pressure Andrew Luck, and that was the big difference in the game. Credit the Colts' offensive line for a brilliant game plan that neutralized DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Question the Broncos' decision not to blitz until deep into the second half.
Question the coaching, and come along for the ride that is the 2015 offseason.