The buildup leading to last Sunday night’s match between Denver and Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium seemed a heavy burden on Peyton Manning, the one-time Colts quarterback.
When Manning jogged onto the field wearing a Broncos uniform for the first time in the pregame warmups, a video montage flashed on the giant television screens as the sold-out crowd stood and applauded.
Always classy, Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, raised his right hand above his head and thanked them several times.
Then the game began and as it played out Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck outplayed Manning and the Colts withstood a furious Broncos rally and escaped with a 39-33 win.
“This isn’t me beating the Broncos,’’ said Luck, the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford in 2012, who hit 21 of 38 passes for 228 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. “We won because it’s always about the team. They’re a very good team, but we played a little bit better.”
Manning’s 14 years in Indianapolis was marked by two Super Bowl appearances and one victory, but this wasn’t enough for Colts owner Jim Irsay, who earlier in the week noted that the New England Patriots and New York Giants had three and two Super Bowl titles respectively during that span.
It’s not as simple as saying a quarterback won or lost a game, because in many cases it’s a turnover, blocked punt or long kickoff return that sways the contest.
Manning didn’t have his best outing as he committed two turnovers, but did toss three scoring passes and finished with 386 yards on 29 of 49 attempts and one interception.
Manning’s 17-yard bullet to wide receiver Eric Decker (game-best 150 yards on eight catches) with 8:16 left in the opening quarter made it 7-0, and Manning’s 12-yard throw to tight end Julius Thomas (41 yards on five receptions) early in the second quarter gave Denver (6-1) a 14-10 lead.
Manning’s 31-yard pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (82 yards on four catches) with 12:11 left in the fourth quarter narrowed the gap to 36-23.
Luck’s 11-yard throw to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (44 yards on four receptions) and 1:20 showing in the first quarter came after Adam Vinatieri’s 27-yard field goal and 4:05 left made it 7-3. Vinatieri added two kicks in the final quarter.
Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis (three tackles, two assists and two sacks) took Manning down behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble that led to a safety and reduced the Colts’ lead to 14-12 with just under nine minutes remaining before halftime.
When Luck found fullback Stanley Havili with a 20-yard toss and 5:50 on the clock in the second quarter, Indianapolis (5-2) forged a 19-14 lead, and Luck’s eight-yard strike to tight end Coby Fleener (five catches for 38 yards) with 10 seconds left before the intermission gave the Colts a 26-14 lead.
Luck’s 10-yard sprint with five minutes left in the third quarter made it a 19-point margin, but Matt Prater, who had a 47-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, nailed a 31-yarder with 42 seconds left in the third quarter that trimmed the Colts’ advantage to 33-17.
Denver was limited to 64 yards on the ground, but running back Knowshon Moreno (game-high 40 yards on 15 carries) had a one-yard surge and 8:44 left in the final quarter that got the Broncos within 36-30.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.