It was a valiant effort, but the Broncos couldn't overcome the first half hole they put themselves in. To those who watched the game, all hope seemed lost until Broncos defensive back Omar Bolden returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown score with no time remaining in the first half to bring the score to 17-7.
That spectacular play helped ignite a fire in the hearts of Broncos players and the team quickly scored 10 more points on a 64 yard touchdown reception by Emmanuel Sanders and a Brandon McManus field goal to tie the game 17-17 in the third quarter. The 17 unanswered points by the Broncos helped them erase their largest deficit of the season to date and helped restore faith in their fans that they could pull off a victory.
However, the tie game didn't last for long as Andrew Luck lead the Colts down the field on a 12 play, 80 yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Ahmad Bradshaw to go up 24-17 over the Broncos early in the fourth quarter. But the Broncos offense responded with a tremendous drive of their own, moving 80 yards down the field in 9 plays that ended with a Peyton Manning touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels, who had his best game of the season.
After that scoring drive, the Colts were able to put 3 more points on the board with an Adam Vinatieri 55 yard field goal and it was up to Manning and the rest of the offense to put together one last drive to help propel them to victory. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and the Broncos first loss of the season was sealed when Peyton Manning made an errant throw that was picked off by Colts defensive back Darius Butler.
A loss was bound to happen eventually and the Broncos proved themselves mortal today, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Despite a gutsy performance in the second half, they fell short and will look to rebound at home against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday. Here are some of my takeaways from the game.
- The second-half offense for the Broncos was much better than the deplorable outing in the first half and was reminiscent of what they had done against the Green Bay Packers the week prior. Peyton Manning (outside his untimely interception) was on fire and helped lead the team on a handful of scoring drives. He finished the game 21/36 for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
- After the Broncos traded for Vernon Davis earlier in the week, Owen Daniels had his best game of the year. He reeled in six catches for 102 yards with his biggest being a touchdown reception with 8:54 remaining in the game to even the score.
- The pass protection was great for most of the game and Peyton Manning had ample time to throw the ball from the pocket. The team hadn't allowed a sack in over 112 drop backs until Kendall Langford took down Manning early in the fourth quarter.
- There was not much positive to say about the Broncos defense this game, other than a few small observations. Malik Jackson had a terrific game and terrorized Andrew Luck on a myriad of plays. Though none of them resulted in a sack, several of his hurries and pressures caused some poor throws and helped the Broncos get off the field on a few third down situations.
- The Broncos may have allowed 252 yards through the air, but outside one big miscommunication on the 38 yard Griff Whalen reception, the trio of Denver Broncos cornerbacks (Talib, Harris, Jr., Roby) did a very good job against the Colts receivers.
- One of the worst performances of the game was from the Broncos first half offense. They accumulated less than 100 total yards and no drive in the Broncos first half went for more than 30 yards. They all sputtered, with five resulting in punts and one promptly came to a close when Peyton Manning was intercepted by former Broncos defensive back Mike Adams. The ensuing touchdown from the turnover was the 38th point opposing teams have gotten off Manning's interceptions this season.
- After having a great week of rushing last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos' rushing attack was nonexistent against the Colts. The team ran the ball 14 times for only 35 yards and Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson did not look as sharp and decisive as they were last week.
- If there was one sore spot that could have been the cause of the Broncos rushing woes, I would look at Michael Schofield, who consistently lost battles at the point of attack and failed to do his job on the outside in the running game. It was a poor performance by the second-year player who has put together a string of promising performances the past few weeks. Alas, today was not one of them.
- Darius Butler's interception of Peyton Manning with six minutes to go in the game was a hard one for Broncos fans to swallow. Manning has had an interception in every game this year. Four games with a single interception, and four games with multiple interceptions. It is a significant cause for concern and it is unlikely that the Broncos defense can continue to make up for his poor decisions that ultimately lead to points for the other team.
- For most of the game, Denver's defensive line lost the battle in the trenches against Indianapolis' offensive line. In particular, Sylvester Williams struggled in the first half immensely and was consistently blown off the ball several yards on most snaps. His poor play on the interior was a key reason why Frank Gore and the Colts rushing attack did so well in the first half. However, it is important to note that the Broncos did a much better job at stopping the run in the second half.
- The Broncos coverage had issues covering the middle of the field for most of the game. From my observations, Danny Trevathan was beaten again in coverage by multiple Colts receivers and tight ends that allowed for multiple first downs and big plays that helped spark scoring drives. Don't be fooled by the 19 tackles he put up on the stat sheet -- he had a very poor outing on the defensive side of the ball.
- Denver's defense has done an incredible job on third down situations this season, but struggled mightily in that regard today. The Colts were able to convert 12/20 third down opportunities (20%) which was a key reason they were able to win the game.
- Penalties. Enough said.
Hart's Quick Hits
- The big time battle against the Colts wasn't without a few scars. Derek Wolfe, Brandon Marshall, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders all saw time on the sidelines being evaluated for injury. Ware never returned to the game after leaving early in the second half with a back injury, which was the reason he missed time earlier in the season as well.
- Peyton Manning was close to obtaining the all-time passing yardage record against the Colts, but fell a few yards short. He will undoubtedly break that record next weekend at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
- Speaking of Peyton Manning, is it just me or does he continue to struggle in big games that have lofty expectations or punch phrase headlines? While his two interceptions weren't the only reason the Broncos lost today, it certainly was a big factor. The turnover battle always plays a large role in the outcome of games. Perhaps I'm being a bit too brash, but iIt seems as if he has never been able to overcome the "fade away in the limelight" stigma he has had dating back to his time at the University of Tennessee.
- The Colts dominated the clock, keeping the ball for 38:39 to Denver's 21:21. A huge difference that helped result in a gassed Broncos defense who was unable to amass more than one sack on Andrew Luck.