We may have witnessed a changing of the guard Sunday night, as Andrew Luck out-dueled Peyton Manning to lead the Colts to a 24-13 playoff win over the Broncos in Denver.
Indianapolis limited Denver to just six points after the 10-minute mark of the first quarter. It was the Broncos’ first home loss of the season and their second-fewest points of the season.
How do we explain what we saw from the Colts, who struggled against elite teams for much of the season?
“Well, they’ve got a couple issues that have been problems all year,” Indy Star columnist Gregg Doyel said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Their offensive line has been a major problem all year. Their cornerbacks, their pass coverage – besides Vontae Davis, who’s exceptional – it’s been a major problem. Their receivers – T.Y. Hilton’s a Pro Bowler. Really, really good. Everybody else is unreliable. Reggie Wayne’s hit the wall. Hakeem Nick’s hit the wall. And their running game – Boom Herron is a good running back, but he fumbles all the time. So they’ve had all these issues, and not one of them reared its ugly head tonight. Not one of them. In fact, some of these weaknesses were strengths. I mean, the Colts manhandled the Broncos on the road. They don’t do that to good teams, but they did tonight.”
The Colts were shut out in the first quarter but scored 24 points thereafter. Herron had 95 total yards and a touchdown, Hilton and Coby Fleener combined for seven catches for 121 yards, and Nicks and Dwayne Allen each caught a touchdown pass. The Colts had more first downs than the Broncos (23-19), were better on third down and controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes.
Who deserves credit for this?
“I guess Chuck Pagano,” Doyel said. “I don’t know. Whatever they’ve done the last two weeks – they throttled the Bengals last weekend in Indianapolis, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with that. They won, but the Bengals were playing without A.J. Green and also without Jermaine Gresham – their top two receivers, their top two targets. So they were hamstrung, and Andy Dalton’s just isn’t all that good. They just didn’t have anything and the Colts took care of business – kind of like the Colts did all year with the AFC South: They took car of business. But tonight against the Broncos, it was spectacular. And the fact that it was across-the-board domination, you got to start at the top with Chuck Pagano, the coach.”
Amazingly, the Colts won despite a so-so game from Luck, who finished 27-of-43 for 265 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Not a great day (for) Andrew Luck,” Doyel said, “and yet, they didn’t just win; they completely mauled the Broncos.”
They mauled the Broncos, in part, because Peyton Manning had arguably his worst game of the season. He finished 26-of-46 for 211 yards and a touchdown.
“Peyton Manning was terrible today,” Doyel said. “He was terrible. He got better in the second half. He stopped throwing long passes and started throwing West Coast passes and he got better. But he has not been himself for two-and-a-half months, and he was the same not-himself guy tonight.”
It was the ninth one-and-done of Manning’s playoff career.
The Colts, meanwhile, will play the Patriots in the AFC Championship this Sunday. Kickoff from Foxboro is slated for 6:40 p.m. ET.
The Patriots beat the Colts, 42-20, in Indianapolis on Nov. 16.