Analysis: Colts' upset of Broncos resurrects hope for the season

For at least one day, Colts show what's possible when they start fast, run the ball, don't turn it over and finish strong in 27-24 win.

Admit it. Many of you gave up the Indianapolis Colts for dead.

It’s OK. I did, too.

Confessions are good for the soul, especially after the Colts’ rather remarkable 27-24 upset of the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Yeah, it’s only one game, but it's the kind of performance we’ve been waiting to see from these Colts for more than two months. Seriously, to take down Peyton Manning and the NFL’s No. 1 defense, when few expected it to be possible, well, it swings open the door on what the Colts can accomplish in these next three months.

Before Sunday, we wondered if the Colts would even make the playoffs.

It took a lot for this to happen. But for now, so many of the details don't matter. We just know enough of it worked.

Associate head coach Rob Chudzinski’s simplified offense, which utilized the tight ends and ran Frank Gore more — finally! — made all the difference for quarterback Andrew Luck, who didn’t turn the ball over whereas Manning did, twice.

And after cornerback Darius Butler had the second interception of Manning on a great diving catch, the Colts were able to finish off the Broncos, with some help from the disgruntled visitors. Aqib Talib will undoubtedly hear from the NFL office after poking tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye in the final minutes. That penalty gave the Colts a first down to kill more clock.

Then another Broncos penalty for defensive holding on a last-minute field goal provided another first down and Luck took a knee in victory formation.

“Well, winning cures a lot,” Butler understated.

“We all needed a win,” Luck said, visibly exhausted from a short week after a Monday game that saw offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton fired and replaced with Chudzinski.

How did the Colts (4-5) manage to snap their three-game losing streak against the Broncos (7-1), whose last loss was in January in the playoffs to Indy, when it sure seemed as if the Colts were on the verge of implosion?

“I thought the guys did a great job of sort of blocking out the (crap) and the distractions and focusing on football and practicing,” Luck said.

Again, only one game, but not only does this victory breath some life into the Colts, it does the same for head coach Chuck Pagano, who many are convinced won’t be re-signed at season’s end. Maybe, just maybe, a second-half run and doing something in the playoffs could change that. Not saying with any conviction it will, but this win sure vindicated his decision to fire Hamilton and go with the guy he wanted all along in Chudzinski. An offense that has been blanked in the first half of three games sure woke up.

Pagano reiterated the obvious afterward about his players: “These guys are never, ever going to quit.”

And he said of his coaching staff, which had to adjust to his decision to fire Hamilton, “I know they didn’t leave the office” during the week.

Unlike in the past, the Colts started fast. They took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

Unlike in the past, the Colts committed to the run. Gore had 28 carries, his highest total since 2011, in amassing 83 yards and a touchdown.

Unlike in the past, the Colts and Mr. Luck didn’t have a turnover.

Unlike in the past, the Colts didn’t commit costly penalties to kill drives.

Unlike in the past, the Colts’ defense came up with a key turnover with the game on the line. 

And then they finished.

What seemed a lock this day was that Manning would win at “The House That Manning Built” to pass Brett Favre for a 187th career victory, most ever for a starting quarterback in league history. And Manning was poisted to break Favre’s career pass yardage mark of 71,838. But No. 18 came up three yards shy.

Those records can wait until another day as Manning fell to 1-3 against Luck and his old team.

Manning tried to say it was, “just a road game, playing a team that came out and played well today.”

And, of course, he wasn’t concerned about setting records.

“I guess I’ve been in enough situations like that in my career where I’ve been able to focus on the task at hand,” the 39-year-old passer said. “Trying to win a football game, and if anything happens along the way, it’s a part of it, and you kind of accept it.”

Bottom line, with no spin, the Colts showed up and played their best game of what has been an incredibly frustrating ride so far.

There were blemishes, as always. Punter Pat McAfee should have punted into the stands instead of giving the Broncos a chance at a return, which became the Broncos’ first touchdown on the final play of the first half. Cornerback Greg Toler got scorched in coverage enough times to make you think this one, too, was destined to end badly.

Colts safety Mike Adams (ankle) exited early and rookie defensive tackle Henry Anderson (knee) suffered what Pagano said was a "pretty significant" injury. Adams had the first interception of Manning, his fifth of the season. Both have played well for a defense that began the day ranked 29th.

After all the ups and downs of yet another rollercoaster ride in a season full of them, Adam Vinatieri trotted out for a 55-yard field goal. Yes, the ageless one, the NFL's oldest player at 42, "Mr. Clutch," but this was sure a long one. And a miss would have given Manning and the Broncos ideal field position, not to mention inevitable second-guessing of Pagano.

"I smashed that kick," Vinatieri said.

Indeed, he did. It would have been good from 60, maybe even 65.

Nobody should suggest everything is fixed just like that because of one win. The Colts can't lay an egg after the bye week at Atlanta or we won't be talking about how they beat the Broncos.

But for one day, the Colts everybody has been expecting to see actually appeared.

If this happens more often, and again that’s a huge “if,” who knows what’s possible come January.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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