Colts can’t beat Manning, Broncos despite late rally

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Andrew Luck looks for a receiver during the Colts' opening game against the Broncos.

DENVER – For once, it wasn’t all about Peyton Manning. Well at least the narrative anyway.

Unlike their meeting in Indianapolis last year, the focus of this match-up between the Colts and the Broncos was more about the two teams that were opening the 2014 season and not the crossroads of two eras of a franchise.

It was about Denver’s desire to return to a Super Bowl they produced a dud in seven months before while Indianapolis was trying to take the first step towards the Lombardi Trophy they have been talking about since Chuck Pagano’s arrival.

While the storyline before the game was a bit different from 2013, the way it played out for the Colts at Sports Authority Field seemed like it was last season all over again. Denver raced out to a 24-0 first half lead but the Colts stormed back in the second half and pulled within seven points before the Broncos pulled out a 31-24 win.

Manning finished 22-of-36 for 269 yards and three touchdowns with most of that production coming in the first half. All three of his touchdowns were to Julius Thomas.

As for the Colts, Andrew Luck finished 35-of-53 for 370 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Opposite of Manning, most of Luck’s production came in the second half when the Colts mounted their rally.

Reggie Wayne made a strong comeback to the Colts lineup, catching a team-high nine receptions for 98 yards in his first game back since tearing his ACL against the Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium last October.

Indianapolis falls to 0-1 on the season but gets some extra time to prepare for their next opponent: The Philadelphia Eagles. They will face them on Monday night, Sept. 15 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Luck seemed to have the Colts on the right track on the opening drive when he hit Reggie Wayne for a 22-yard gain on the opening play. The drive stalled and the Colts went for a field goal. A penalty on the attempt forced them too far for a try, and the Colts elected to punt.

Manning responded with a 16-play, 77-yard drive in which the Broncos moved downfield with little resistance until the Colts toughened up inside their own 10-yard-line. Brandon McManus, a former Colts kicker, was able to get three points for Denver with a 22-yard field goal.

After Luck’s first interception of the year, Manning was able to complete the next drive when he got the Broncos downfield with a long pass to Julius Thomas and then a 3-yard touchdown strike that made it 10-0.

The Colts would continue to have no answer for Thomas in the second quarter as he caught a 35-yard touchdown strike from Manning later in the quarter to push the lead to 17-0 to cap an 83-yard drive. Manning and Thomas wouldn’t have to go as long to produce a third score as the quarterback found the receiver for a five-yard strike to complete a 71-yard drive and make it 24-0.

With under two minutes left, Luck helped rescue the half with an eight-play, 80-yard march that culminated in his own touchdown run with 28 seconds left. Luck managed to get the ball just inside the pylon for the score.

It appeared that Luck might get the Colts a little closer early in the third quarter when he took the Colts all the way down inside the Broncos’ five-yard-line. The drive stalled and Luck was brought down for a loss on fourth down as the Colts turned it over on downs.

Another drive in the quarter saw the Colts get down to the Denver six, but once again they couldn’t get a touchdown. Adam Vinatieri hit a field goal to pull Indianapolis within 14. Meanwhile a stouter Colts defense slowed the Broncos down and held Manning scoreless in the quarter.

Indianapolis nearly was able to do that early in the fourth when Thomas fumbled after catching a pass from Manning. But a few Colts defenders couldn’t get their hands on it and Andre Caldwell recovered for Denver. Montee Ball finished the drive with a gritty touchdown run in which he pushed himself in after initially being stopped to put Denver up 31-10.

Luck kept the Colts alive with an 80-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion on a 22-yard pass to Ahmad Bradshaw.  Sprung by a block by Bradshaw later in the drive, Dwayne Allen took a pass from Luck and raced down the sidelines for a 41-yard score to make it 31-17.

The Colts gambled with the early onside kick on the following kickoff and it paid off as Pat McAfee’s kick was recovered by Andy Studebaker. The drive ended with an interception, but the Colts defense forced a punt. The next drive ended with a touchdown toss to Hakeem Nicks to pull Indianapolis within seven.

After Indianapolis’ defense forced a three-and-out on Denver’s next possession, the Colts had a shot to tie the game with just under three minutes left. The drive stalled when Luck’s pass to Wayne on fourth and six fell incomplete, allowing the Broncos to run out the clock.