(6-1) Broncos 33 – Colts 39 (5-2)
Peyton Manning built the house that is Lucas Oil Stadium.
But he no longer runs it.
Manning’s successor Andrew Luck let the city of Indianapolis know that he may not be a four-time MVP, but the Colts are still in good hands. Luck and the post-Manning era Colts, behind a superlative defensive effort, handed the Denver Broncos their very first loss of the season – and their first regular season loss since Week 5 of last season – Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pre-game, Manning, who had not visited Lucas Oil since signing with the Denver Broncos last March, was honored with a 1-minute tribute, which he graciously acknowledged by waving to the crowd and placing his hand over his heart in gratitude. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, but once Manning joined his teammates on the Denver sideline, all adoration ceased.
The city of Indianapolis exploited all of Manning’s (few) weaknesses. They knew him well enough to open the roof in the building (something Manning always disliked), allowing the chilly, 50 degree Indianapolis air to stiffen the 37-year-old’s joints. The fans yelled as loud as their vocal chords would allow when Manning was running his offense, hoping to mute his last-minute play calls (They then silenced themselves when the Colts’ offense was driving). They toyed with his emotions by displaying signs that read, “12 is the new 18″ and “We wish you well Peyton…just not today.” Manning looked uncomfortable throughout.
The defense made Manning most uncomfortable, doing something that no other team in the NFL had been able to do to the Broncos this season – slow down the passing game. The Colts forced Denver into 6 three-and-outs Sunday. To put this in perspective, the Broncos had only 10 drives result in a three-and-out in their previous six games combined. Robert Mathis forced a game-changing sack-fumble of his old teammate Manning, which resulted in a safety. He now leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5 so far this season. Pat Angerer also intercepted a Manning pass intended for Wes Welker in the fourth quarter when the team was in the midst of staging a comeback. The Broncos may have hurt themselves the most, though, when running back Ronnie Hillman fumbled at the goal line. That fumble, which was recovered by Antoine Bethea, was credited to Erik Walden. The only area in which the Colts regressed was their stingy-ness in the fourth quarter. The Colts had allowed their last four opponents to score just six total points in the fourth quarter. Last night, they allowed 17 points in the final 15:00.
The offense also did its part. While Luck didn’t put up any monstrous numbers, he played with a poise far beyond his years. He completed 55% of his passes and threw three touchdowns without turning the ball over. He smoothly and methodically cut through the Broncos’ defense, which could generate zero pass rush and failed at defending the Colts’ receivers.
The plays of the game, though, may have come on special teams. The Colts had themselves a challenge to slow down return specialist Trindon Holliday, but they addressed that challenge head-on. Stanley Havilli forced Holliday to fumble in the first quarter, which was recovered by the Colts (The play was originally nulled and ruled out of bounds, but a challenge reversed the call) and led to Indianapolis’s first touchdown on the following play. Later in the game, Holliday, well on his way to the end zone, was taken out by none other than punter Pat McAfee. McAfee, although taller and heavier than the 5’5″ Holliday, played with the guts of a linebacker.
The enjoyment of the Colts’ victory was short-lived, however. Reggie Wayne, who went down in pursuit of an Andrew Luck pass in the fourth quarter, underwent a MRI today, and the tests revealed that Wayne has torn his ACL (and also his meniscus) and will miss the rest of the year. Wayne is now on an injured reserve list that includes fellow starters Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Donald Thomas, and Ahmad Bradshaw, among others. Wayne, who has played 13 seasons in the NFL, could see his playing days come to an end, but sources say he is determined to make a comeback. Those who are aware of the superb character in Wayne will not be surprised when he returns to the field next season. However, for now, the Colts will desperately need other receivers to step up in his absence.
The Colts have now defeated arguably the three most dominant teams in the league in Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco. They now have an easier stretch of games ahead of them (They play at Houston next week), but they will still have to fight hard to prove themselves as Super Bowl contenders, for the season is still in its early stages. Needless to say, they deserve to be in the category of the elite. The 2013 Colts proved their legitimacy last night.