Andrew Luck looked like a different quarterback Sunday, and the Indianapolis Colts looked like the team they were supposed to be all season.
Just five days after changing offensive coordinators, the struggling Luck got back in sync by throwing for two touchdowns and setting up Adam Vinatieri for a tie-breaking 55-yard field goal with 6:13 to play, giving the Colts a 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Indy (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak, remained atop the AFC South and ruined what many expected to be a historic homecoming for Peyton Manning. It was the Colts’ first win outside the AFC South that they lead.
“That’s who we need to be, consistently,” Luck said. “Probably a little bit of soul searching, trying to figure out what we want to be. The truth of the matter is we have the pieces, which is pretty darn obvious.”
Manning fell 3 yards short of becoming the NFL's career passing leader – after his second interception and two Denver penalties allowed the Colts to run the final six minutes off the clock. He'll head home to face the Kansas City Chiefs next week with 71,836 career yards; Brett Favre had 71,838.
The loss also forced Manning to wait at least another week to break Favre’s career record for most career regular-season wins (186) by a quarterback.
Luck made sure his predecessor in Indy didn’t get a chance to celebrate in his old stomping grounds by breaking a 17-17 tie with a TD pass to Ahmad Bradshaw early in the fourth. Luck set up Vinatieri for the longest field goal of his Colts career to break a 24-24 tie. He probably would have made it three scores in a row, but Luck took a knee on the final play of the game inside Denver’s 5-yard line.
Luck was 21-of-36 for 252 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Manning was 21-of-36 for 281 yards with two TDs, and Denver (7-1) were the only unbeaten team to lose this weekend.
“I’ve been in enough situations like that in my career where I’ve been able to focus on the task at hand – trying to win the football game,” he said after losing his second straight at Lucas Oil Stadium in what could be his final game in Indy. “I kind of dealt with them (the emotions) a few years ago. I felt like this time coming back was just playing against a good football team.”
A team that that was mired in turmoil.
What was different for Indy? Tuesday’s switch of offensive coordinators certainly made a difference. Instead of the pervasive slow starts, Indianapolis started fast.
Frank Gore’s 7-yard touchdown run ended Denver’s defensive streak of seven straight games of scoreless first quarters.
Vinatieri made it 10-0 on the Colts’ next series, and after Mike Adams picked off Manning, Luck hooked up with Jack Doyle, who stretched the ball across the goal line for a 3-yard score. Luck’s 100th career TD pass gave the Colts their largest lead of the season and put Denver in their biggest deficit of 2015, 17-0.
Just five days after firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and giving the play-calling duties to Rob Chudzinski – and four days after Luck wound up on the injury report again – Manning’s successor played like the best young quarterback in football.
“We really feel we’ve competed with the best football teams in the league – Denver, New England, Carolina,” team owner Jim Irsay said. “We still feel we can go the places we dream of going.”
They could – if Luck continues playing this way.
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