Broncos vs. Colts: Takeaways from Indianapolis' Win over Denver
It's over: The new War of 1812, the master and the student of the game, the homecoming.
The Colts are indeed legitimate challengers for the postseason and they proved it once again on Sunday night at home.
Andrew Luck Grabs the Spotlight
The Colts-Broncos game was supposed to be all about Peyton Manning.
It was supposed to be his last goodbye to Indianapolis and the city's last goodbye to him.
I'm not saying that it wasn't, but another quarterback stole the show on Sunday night—Andrew Luck for the Colts.
Luck had more pressure than anybody on him this week. He has to live up to a standard set by one of the best quarterbacks of all time and faces the additional pressure of playing well enough to help Colts fans let Manning go.
Despite that kind of pressure, Luck was the most impressive quarterback on the field Sunday night, not Manning. Although Luck threw for just 228 yards, he also threw for three touchdowns and ran for another while not turning the ball over. Luck got the Colts out to a big lead in the first half before extending it in the third quarter.
Whether it was moving in and out of the pocket or making accurate throws downfield, Luck was as impressive as ever considering the circumstances. He wasn't perfect, but he was still phenomenal.
Loss of Reggie Wayne a Big Blow
In the fourth quarter, Andrew Luck avoided a sack, moved up in the pocket and threw to a wide-open Reggie Wayne while getting hit on third down. Luck's pass, however, was a bit behind Wayne, who stopped to come back to the ball, but got his foot caught in the turf as he planted and injured his right knee.
For a few scary moments, Wayne lay writhing on the turf. Eventually he got up and walked off under his own power, but the damage was done.
Wayne may or may not have a torn ACL or MCL. If an MRI scheduled on Wayne's knee for Monday, via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, reveals that it is not a significant injury, he could come back in a couple weeks.
If Wayne is out for the season or even any significant length of time, his absence would kill the Colts offense. Wayne is the Colts' most dependable target, especially on third down, and Luck tends to favor him.
Unlikely Contributors Make Big Plays
Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton are generally the big play-makers through the air for Indianapolis, but neither scored against the Broncos.
Instead, the Colts got touchdowns from Darrius Heyward-Bey, Coby Fleener and Stanley Havili on Sunday night. All three scores came on Andrew Luck throws to the flat that were run into the end zone.
Heyward-Bey caught four passes for 44 yards and added a 30-yard end-around run. It was the most yards that Heyward-Bey has contributed in a game this season. Havili added just one catch, but it was a 20-yard touchdown reception. Fleener finished with five catches for 38 yards and his third touchdown of the season.
With the injury to Wayne, the Colts may need even more production from those players this season, so their performances on Sunday night were a good sign, to say the least.
Vontae Davis and Darius Butler Keep Stepping Up in Press Coverage
The Colts offense looked much better after opening it up for Andrew Luck against the Broncos, but the story of this one was the Indy defense.
The Colts defense forced multiple three-and-outs for Denver, which converted only 31 percent of its third downs. Indianapolis cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Darius Butler deserved game balls for their play, especially in the first half.
Davis and Butler played physical press coverage on Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to keep the Broncos from getting into a rhythm for most of the game. Davis and Butler finished with five tackles apiece, and Butler had three passes defensed while Davis finished with two.
The Broncos got their stats in the end, but their struggles in the second and third quarters were critical to the Colts' win.
Surprising Pass Rush Slows Manning
The best way to slow Peyton Manning is to pressure him without selling out with blitzes.
While the Colts' pass rush has been inconsistent this season and Manning is an expert at avoiding the rush, the Colts somehow were able to sack Manning four times after the Broncos had allowed just five sacks in the first six weeks.
Robert Mathis led the way with two sacks and a forced fumble that led to a safety (and a subsequent touchdown drive). Mathis has 11.5 sacks on the season and is well on pace to pass Dwight Freeney's franchise record of 16 sacks for a single season.
The Colts were also able to get pressure from other sources, including Erik Walden (who forced Manning's sole interception), Fili Moala (numerous pressures, one sack) and Jerrell Freeman (a half-sack to bring his season total to 3.5).
If the Colts can continue to get pressure from other players in their front seven, their defense will be just fine.
Colts' Injuries Spur Broncos' Near-Comeback
They were up by 19 points in the fourth quarter, but the Colts allowed the Broncos to claw back into it after Indianapolis injuries gave Denver a few mismatch advantages.
Pat Angerer stepped out for a while, as did Greg Toler and Darius Butler.
The absences of Toler and Butler were the most important ones that Manning exploited, as the Broncos began moving at will in the fourth quarter. Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas were able to get their numbers due to garbage-time stats, but overall, the two were severely limited while the Colts were healthy.
The Colts will need their bye this week to get healthy for Houston in two weeks.
Indy Crowd Thanks Manning, but Fully Behind Luck
Colts fans showed on Sunday night that they are still extremely thankful for Peyton Manning. When the pregame video tribute to Manning was shown at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Broncos quarterback stepped out to wave to the crowd and thank the fans while they gave Manning the standing ovation he deserved.
Some bonds can't be broken, even after a year-and-a-half.
But once the game started, the Indianapolis crowd was completely behind Andrew Luck and the Colts offense with the stadium as loud as it ever has been. While the crowd was loud for Manning and respectful of Luck, fans treated the Broncos just like any other team, although with a bit more passion.
There are still plenty of people who are torn over Manning, but on Sunday night, the loyalty was with the current boys in blue.
Jim Irsay Has the Last Laugh, but May Not Enjoy It
Colts owner Jim Irsay had the last laugh on Sunday night following his team's 39-33 win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Andrew Luck outplayed Peyton, and the Indianapolis defense that Irsay had tried so hard to acquire looked surprisingly good against the best offense in the league in the Broncos.
However, Irsay didn't look like he was enjoying seeing Manning get beat up. Irsay grimaced throughout much of the game and wasn't particularly bright and cheerful after the win either.
Irsay loves Manning more than anybody, and it had to be hard for him to watch Manning struggle, but make no mistake, Irsay wants his "balanced" team to make a playoff run. Seeing the Colts beat Manning's "Star Wars" numbers Sunday night with a balanced effort from all three units for Indianapolis had to be sweet for Irsay.