The Denver Broncos needed plays in all three phases against a surprisingly tough 3-5 Indianapolis Colts team after falling behind 17-0 late in the 2nd quarter. Special teams did its part - Omar Bolden returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown before halftime. Peyton Manning did some of his part - he threw three touchdowns, but his fourth-quarter interception was damning. But surprisingly, the Broncos defense, after mostly carrying the Broncos to a 7-0 record, failed to do its part, as Andrew Luck and the Colts buried the Broncos 27-24 in Week 9 to give Denver its first loss of the season.
The killing stroke was a (dirty, dumb) personal foul penalty against Aqib Talib with just over two minutes to play. The foul was dirty, and it cost his team dearly - those 15 yards gave the Colts a new set of downs. Appropriately, the Broncos defense would commit two more penalties before time expired and Indianapolis sealed the deal.
Peyton Manning entered Sunday in pursuit of two QB career NFL records - wins and passing yards. Manning needed 284 passing yards and the win to set NFL career records in each. Through 29 minutes of the game, it looked like he would fall far short of both - the Broncos were down 17-0, and Manning was playing very poorly. He would end up three yards, and still one win, short of both records.
The Broncos defense did something it hadn't done all year - it relented points in the first quarter. Frank Gore capped off a big Indianapolis drive with a nine-yard run into the end zone, virtually untouched, in a drive that looked all too easy against this heralded Broncos D, and the Colts took a 7-0 lead in Q1.
With Peyton and the offense struggling to find a rhythm, the Colts drew next blood after they benefitted from a second 15-yard penalty against the Broncos. Adam Vinatieri was good from 43 yards, and the Colts took a 10-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter.
Then, Manning overthrew Owen Daniels, which was tipped by one Colts defender and hauled in by former Bronco Mike Adams of the Colts. Indy drove the ball down the field, and Andrew Luck threw a short touchdown pass to __ to give Indianapolis a commanding 17-0 lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
The worst part was how dramatically the Broncos defense had gone from world-beaters to seeming sieves. The Colts were hardly slowed by Denver's defense, averaging 6.5 yards per play and scoring touchdowns in drives lasting less than four minutes. With the offense returning to its anemic Week 1-6 form and the defense suddenly struggling, who could possibly step up to save the Broncos?
SPECIAL TEAMS OF COURSE.
That punt return, as time expired in the half, gave the Broncos life, down 17-7. Manning was dreadful in the first half - 9 of 22 for 80 yards, one INT, and a 32.8 passer rating. It wasn't all on Manning - his receivers were dropping some deep dimes, and the Colts got away with one blatant pass interference on Vernon Davis where the defender was holding onto his left arm on a deep post. But it wasn't Peyton's day in the first half, and the Colts would get the football after halftime.
But things change.
Denver's defense, feeling the momentum shift from Bolden's big return, stepped up and stopped Luck on back-to-back drives. In between, Peyton Manning and Emmanuel Sanders did this:
In just a few minutes, the Broncos went from being down 17-0 to being down three points with the football and momentum. Andrew Luck was having no luck against Denver's tough-again D, while Manning was finding a rhythm. The Broncos managed another big, clock-killing drive in the third quarter that climaxed with a Brandon McManus field goal to tie the game 17-17.
Andrew Luck and the Colts would not go quietly into the Indianapolis afternoon, though, as Luck dodged blitzes, scrambled for first downs, and carried the previously maligned Colts offense down the field for another touchdown drive. Luck sacrificed his body on those runs and still hung in the pocket to beat a Broncos blitz and deliver a touchdown pass. The Colts took a 24-17 lead.
Manning and company responded with a touchdown drive of their own- a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in an Owen Daniels touchdown. The Broncos and Colts were tied again, 24-24, midway through the 4th quarter.
But then the Colts defense made a play - they picked off Peyton Manning (again). And the Broncos defense didn't. Andrew Luck drove his team into field goal range, twice, and the only reason they didn't kick two scores was because they didn't need to. A buffet of Broncos penalties helped the Colts extend their final drive and kill the clock, and Indianapolis handed Denver its first loss of the season, 27-24.
The Broncos defense was humbled by this loss - 1985 Bears/2000 Ravens they are not. Peyton Manning again threw two interceptions - he's thrown at least one pick every game this year and has thrown multiple interceptions four times. While the comeback effort was valiant, the Broncos defense didn't make enough plays and made enough boneheaded plays to cost their team the game. Uncharacteristic for sure, and hopefully something they learn from.