|Date of game: 9/7/2014
Recap: Denver vs. Indianapolis
Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas connected for three second-quarter touchdowns, and the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos held off the Indianapolis Colts, 31-24, on Sunday night.
Manning, who spent the first 13 years of his illustrious career with the Colts, was in midseason form in the first half, guiding the Broncos (1-0) to a commanding 24-0 lead. Andrew Luck led Indianapolis back and made things interesting, but ultimately fell short of upending Denver for a second straight season.
Manning finished with 269 yards on 22-of-36 passing, pedestrian numbers by the high standards the future Hall-of-Famer set last season. Manning broke all sorts of records in 2013, throwing 55 touchdown passes in leading the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they were ultimately humbled by the Seattle Seahawks.
Julius Thomas made seven catches for 104 yards and set a career-high with his three touchdown grabs, and Montee Ball carried 23 times for 67 and a score in his first game as the featured back behind Manning. Knowshon Moreno, who led Denver in every rushing category a season ago, moved on to Miami.
Luck threw for 370 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions for Indianapolis (0-1), which has made the postseason in each of the young quarterback's first two seasons in the NFL. He also had a touchdown on the ground.
"Not how you want to start the season," Luck said. "Obviously, we were beat by a team that played better than us tonight."
Dwayne Allen and Hakeem Nicks had touchdown receptions in the setback, while veteran Reggie Wayne made nine catches for 98 yards.
"They're an explosive offense, as I think they proved," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "Hats off to them, they played well."
"I think it means you have to be old," joked Manning. "You have to be 38 years old, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I'll have that one up on my mantle."
The Broncos looked like a well-oiled machine on their first drive of the game, but the promising series stalled in the red zone. Manning completed five of his first seven passes but missed on three straight from the 3-yard line, leading to a 21-yard field goal from Brandon McManus.
McManus, an undrafted rookie out of Temple, is handling the kicking duties while Denver's Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater serves a four-game suspension.
Luck went up top to Allen on the next Colts possession, but Aqib Talib tipped the pass and Rahim Moore intercepted it, setting up Manning and the Denver offense at the Broncos 46.
A 34-yard touch pass to Julius Thomas down the left side line set up another opportunity, and this time Manning capitalized by finding his tight end for a short touchdown.
Julius Thomas had his second touchdown midway through the stanza, a 35-yard pitch-and-catch down the left sideline. Just before the two-minute warning, Emmanuel Sanders' diving grab 40 yards down the field to the Colts' 4 set up Thomas' third TD of the quarter.
Luck then marched his offense down the field, executing a flawless two-minute drill. The Colts went 80 yards in eight plays and scored when Luck rolled to his right and stretched the ball just over the pylon. Luck was initially ruled out-of-bounds at the 2, but a video review reversed the call and gave him a touchdown.
Out of halftime, Andre Caldwell and Demaryius Thomas both dropped passes and the Broncos were forced to punt for the first time out of their end zone. The Colts took over in Denver territory and set up inside the 10-yard line following a pass interference. Luck's third-down throw to Nicks got Indy within inches of the goal line, and Luck tried to sneak it in on fourth down but was stuffed by a wall of Broncos defenders.
The Colts moved into the red zone again on their next series, this time settling for a 25-yard Vinatieri kick to pull within 24-10.
Griff Whalen fielded another Denver punt later in the third, broke a tackle and ran 92 yards down the sideline for what appeared to be a momentum-shifting touchdown. Brandon Marshall, who had Whalen wrapped up back at the Colts' 10- yard line, immediately argued that his knee touched the ground. The replay confirmed Marshall's allegations, and the touchdown was taken off the board.
The Colts punted and Denver scored its only TD of the second half on the ensuing drive, with Demaryius Thomas' 26-yard screen pass setting up Ball's 3-yard dive over the goal line.
Allen caught a short completion from Luck midway through the fourth and tip- toed 41 yards down the right sideline to make it 31-17. Indianapolis opted to try an onside kick and the move paid off, as Julius Thomas couldn't control the ball and Andy Studebaker pounced on it to secure possession for the Colts.
Luck was intercepted but Indianapolis got the ball back after the Broncos went three-and-out, and Luck put a scare into Denver by finding Nicks for a 9-yard touchdown with 3:26 remaining. The Colts kicked it deep rather than press their luck trying to recover another onside kick and stopped Manning, giving Luck and the offense one last drive to try and tie the game.
Two short completions set up Luck on the Denver 43 with just over two minutes remaining, but two missed passes and a penalty made it 3rd-and-15. Luck found T.Y. Hilton for nine yards, but rookie first-round pick Bradley Roby tipped away a pass on fourth down to secure the game for Denver.Game Notes
Colts owner Jim Irsay was not in the building, as he is currently serving a
six-game suspension from a drunk driving incident in March. Irsay is banned
from contact with the Colts and was fined $500,000 on top of other
punishments ... Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker did not play, as he serving a
four-game suspension for breaking the league's substance abuse policy ... The
Colts had won five straight games in this series, but the Broncos own a 12-9
all-time lead ... Demaryius Thomas dropped three passes. He had four drops all
last season ... Julius Thomas joined Shannon Sharpe as the only Broncos tight
ends with three TDs in a game. Sharpe did it three times.