Damn that luck. And that Luck.
Stars had seemed to be aligning for the Broncos to finally get the better of a team that has bested them time and time again.
Colts were coming off their fifth loss and were headed for a tailspin as the offensive coordinator was fired Tuesday and several key players were apparently barely walking all week.
Peyton Manning was poised to break two more NFL records - against the team that had cast him out, no less.
And Broncos had found some rhythm on offense of late to finally balance the beat-downs from their defense.
But the Indy "voodoo magic" was too strong.
There's some Lucas Oil voodoo magic going on right now... https://t.co/mvIky9FW5I— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) November 8, 2015
We should have known better. There is no luck in football.
But there is Andrew Luck. And that one tends to end badly for the Broncos.
Playing at home and fired up to save their season, Luck and the Colts looked like a drastically different group of players from the week before.
Unfortunately, so did the Broncos.
The defense got picked apart all night long by Luck and T.Y. Hilton who connected just five times but always with big yardage, averaging 16.4 yards per catch. And when Frank Gore wasn't running past our defense, which he did 28 times for 83 yards, Luck scrambled around it six times for 34 yards.
Manning, still three yards shy of the NFL passing record, salvaged his QB rating from the first half, ending with statistics almost identical to Luck's - 21 of 36 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and an average pass distance of more than 10 yards with all five of his targets.
The difference came down to two interceptions by Manning, the first of which led to a Colts touchdown and the second one that prevented Denver from a chance to win. In a game decided by three, that's not going to work.
It was that second interception with 6:06 to go in the game that was the most damaging as the Broncos took the field with an opportunity to control the clock and score to win.
But on the first play of what could have been an heroic comeback drive, rookie David Parry plowed through the offensive line to hit Manning, and Demaryius Thomas got tripped up with Darius Butler. The result was that No. 88 was too late.
"I know the backer jumped out on my side, and I went underneath him," Thomas said, adding that he felt like he was pushed on the way to the ball. "I wasn't falling on my own. Of course he made a good play, but I was going across the field and next thing you know I saw the ball, but I couldn't really get to it because I was falling."
Manning called it a "heck of a play" by Butler.
"He kind of beat our guy to the ball. Obviously a good play by him, and I had to throw it probably a little earlier than I wanted to," Manning said, adding it was "obviously" one he wanted back when asked if he put the ball where he wanted. "Well, no, not where I wanted it to go. I'd obviously likeit to go in our guy's hands. But it was a good play by their defense, I have to say."
Never again!!!...Sorry to the die hard Bronco fans. We will do better I will do better— Ronnie Hillman (@MrHillman2U) November 9, 2015
It didn't help that the running game was zero help to the offense all night. Compared to the Colts' 120 yards rushing, Broncos had only 34, which equated to just 19 in the second half.
"Yeah we got really out of whack there in the first half," Coach Gary Kubiak said about the run game. "We were aggressive, the plays were there for us to make, so we stayed aggressive and then all of the sudden we look up and we've thrown it 20, 21 times or something and running six times. You don't want to do that. Our run game was not much of a factor today."
But after a bad start, there were several bright spots on offense. The Broncos started out flat with several key drops that ended drives, but a terrible reversal on an Owen Daniels catch and a ridiculous no-call on pass interference to Vernon Davis added even more momentum to a rejuvenated Colts team that jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half.
But that momentum took a huge hit when Omar Bolden breathed life into the Broncos and took a punt return 83 yards to the house with just 15 seconds before halftime.
"We always think like that," Bolden said of the team's mindset to come back and win. "It doesn't matter if we're up, behind. It doesn't matter. It's just the way we think."
Bolden's return was a big boost to the locker room at half, and it definitely showed in the third quarter.
"That was obviously a huge play by Omar, and David (Bruton Jr.) got a great block there at the end and all 11 guys on there," Manning noted, adding that the 64-yard touchdown play to Emmanuel Sanders to start the third quarter was an extension of Bolden's boost.
In fact, the Broncos' first three possessions of the second half all ended in scores - touchdown, field goal, touchdown - thanks in large part to 102 yards between Manning and Daniels.
Compared to the first half - in which possessions were five punts interrupted by an interception drive - a comeback suddenly seemed completely reasonable.
"We had a good drive going on the second series of the second half. Hit the big play to Owen to get down there on third-and-2," Manning said of the field goal series after the big touchdown to Sanders. "They got a good rush and had good coverage on that play so it ended up being a pivotal stop. We would have loved to get a touchdown on that particular series."
Hindsight says a touchdown there makes the rest of the game a different animal, putting the Broncos up 21-17 before the Colts scored a final touchdown to start the fourth quarter and go to 24. The next Broncos' touchdown would have made it a 28-24 game instead of 24-24. Given that the defense was able to hold the Colts to 27, Manning's second INT might not have had the impact it did late in the fourth quarter.
Ah, but "what ifs" only count in horseshoes, and since the Colts' helmet is adorned with them, it stands to reason (or at least voodoo superstition, which I'm going with) that the Broncos weren't going to be on the right side of the lucky charm.
That's just the way the night went from the get-go.
The defense had been way off kilter to start the game, allowing the Colts to score on three of their first four possessions. The constant no-calls on holding by the Colts didn't help anything, but the defense kept grinding and got back on track, forcing four straight punts from the AFC rivals.
But not capitalizing when the offense needed to, and the defense giving up stupid penalties to extend Colts' drives, killed any chance for a dramatic win at the end.
"We had a chance the whole game. We never stopped believing," said Brandon Marshall who had a slow night for him, making just three solo tackles. "We kept working hard, we just didn't play as sound as we usually do. They just outplayed us today, which is why they got the W."
T.J. Ward summed it up pretty well - just a bad day at the office.
"We just were out of whack today. We didn't play Bronco football," said the safety who led the team in solo tackles at 10 but added a 15-yard personal foul in the first half to the Broncos' long list of costly penalties. "Too many mistakes on defense. We didn't tackle well. It wasn't the scheme that got us. It was assignment errors and penalties."
Malik Jackson added that it wasn't the scheme, it was the players that let the defense down in the game.
"Yeah, as a defense we didn't play Coach Wade (Phillips) football," he said. "They got behind us sometimes, or they ran the ball on us. It's one of those things that you know, offense showed up today, but we just didn't do enough to stop them from scoring points."
The offense showed up in the second half, but even though it caught up, it could never get out in front - and for the first time this season, the defense couldn't save the day.
In fact, a couple of senseless penalties in the final minute - including a personal foul in the form of an eye poke from Aqib Talib - ensured Manning and the offense couldn't get back on the field for a final attempt at some luck.
But Manning isn't blaming Talib or the defense for the offense's lack of opportunity at the end.
"Hey look, anytime in a game like that, obviously our defense has done a great job all year," Manning said in defense of the group that has defended him - physically and psychologically - all season. "They made some stops, and we had chances. So, obviously you have to try to do your part offensively, and that's kind of all you think about."
Though Kubiak and his coaches have mentioned a need to eliminate penalties, this game will likely bring that to the forefront in practice this week. But the coach wasn't about to single out Talib in what was a downfall by the entire team.
"I talked to everybody," Kubiak noted. I talked to the team, and obviously [Talib] has to keep his composure out there at the end of the game. When the game gets chippy and both sides are talking, you have to handle your business. That's on me."
Apparently a facemask is a throat now. And the dude was holding onto Von, keeping him out of the play. Football. https://t.co/M9nVglzr54— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) November 9, 2015
But Kubiak didn't think his players lost their cool. In fact, he thought the way both the offense and defense fought back in the second half was a good sign.
"Did we lose our cool? I thought we kept our composure in the second half. We did do a great job at getting ourselves into position to win," Kubiak said. "Did we do some not very smart things at the end of the game to get the ball back? I agree with that, but we dug ourselves a hole as a team the first half. We showed a lot of character getting out of the hole and getting ourselves into position, but we didn't close the deal."
The good news - the one that has nothing to do with luck but possibly with Luck - is that losses have a way of teaching better than wins.
The Broncos' defense stunned the Packers' quarterback as well as contained some other very good passers in Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. Having been dismantled by Andrew Luck and his tight ends should prove very useful for future opponents - and perhaps even the Colts again.
"We're still a good team," said Talib, who had just one pass defensed on the stat sheet beside his two penalties. "Just go to work, man. Same way you rebound off a win, we're going to rebound off a loss. Go to work on Monday."
Here we go. 18-1.