DENVER — Did the Indianapolis Colts’ defense dominate on Sunday or what?
After allowing a touchdown on Denver’s opening possession, the Colts clamped down on Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense.
For the rest of the game, really.
The Broncos managed just two field goals in three quarters. This wasn’t the same Colts defense that had been obliterated for 51 points by Pittsburgh and 42 points by New England and Dallas.
“It’s amazing,” defensive end Cory Redding said after the Colts’ 24-13 triumph in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“We flew in here with all the confidence in the world to go out and just play a good game of football. To beat Denver at its home, it’s a huge accomplishment.”
The Broncos punted six times. Manning’s offense had four three-and-out possessions, three of them in the second half.
The defending AFC Champions were No. 2 in scoring at 30.1 points per game in the regular season. They didn’t muster half that. And the Broncos were ranked fourth in total offense at 402.9 total yards per game. They managed 288 after a bye week to rest and prepare.
How could a Colts defense that ranked 19th in points allowed at 23.1 per game and 11th in total yards allowed at 342.7 per game pull this off after some ugly, unforgettable losses in the regular season?
“There was no doubt, man,” Redding said. “You learn the biggest lessons in life when you get knocked down. If you never get knocked down, you’ll never learn how to face adversity. You’ll never learn how to dig deep down in the bottom of your gut to give it everything you’ve got for the man next to you.
“You’ve got to fall sometimes to really learn what you’re made of. I’m glad we had those losses because it made us a tougher team, it made us a better team. That’s why we’re building on those losses, to keep the momentum driving so we can never experience those things again.”
Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson had a game-high 11 tackles. Cornerback Vontae Davis made eight with five passes defended. Safety LaRon Landry also had eight tackles. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman contributed six stops.
Rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome sacked Manning and forced a second-quarter fumble that Freeman recovered. The Colts capitalized off that turnover by driving to a go-ahead touchdown for a 14-7 lead.
When Manning was trying to rally his troops in the final minute, Colts outside linebacker Erik Walden sacked him, too. The game ended one play later. It was a fitting conclusion for a dominant defensive effort.
Through three quarters, the Colts had outgunned the Broncos 302-189 in total yards. And the Colts led 21-10.
“Did you see that win out there?” Freeman said. “That’s all team right there. I feel great. I feel like our team is coming together nice.”
Manning exited with his ninth one-and-done playoff appearance and an 11-13 postseason record. It was another loss he won’t soon forget.
Colts defenders insisted they will continue to remember their losses from this season, including 31-24 to these same Broncos in the Sept. 7 season opener on this same field.
“We definitely learned something,” Freeman said. “We got our asses kicked a couple of times. You learn from that. I think that brought us closer together. A lot of things got shored up. We had a couple of ‘heart-to-hearts’ out there and I think we were stronger because of it.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.