Denver came out on top Saturday 37-24 over a Colts team that showed flashes of the talent that was reminiscent of the 2004 version, but that lacked the consistency of that squad.
Peyton Manning was sharp, completing 18 of 25 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in two and a half quarters of play. And the Colts finally showed a decent running game, with Edgerrin James (8-33) averaging just over four yards per carry and the team posting 111 rushing yards on the night.
Denver, who came into the contest averaging over 5 yards per rush, finished this game with 8.1 yards per carry (203 yards), but that was distorted by Mike Anderson's 93-yard touchdown scamper during the first quarter that put the Broncos up 7-0. Without that play, the Colts defense allowed a comparable 110 yards on the night.
But make no doubt about it. That one big play counted, and it's the kind of play that haunted the Colts defense last season when they would stop teams only to allow the occasional back-breaking big play.
Another area of trouble for the Colts was the offensive line's continued inability to stop the pass rush. One of the best in that category last season, the Colts yielded 6 more sacks, raising their preseason total to 20 (5 per game).
And while Denver entered the night without a single turnover to their credit, they created three Colts turnovers and missed out on two additional fumbles opportunities.
After a Jason Elam field goal put Denver ahead 10-0 in the first quarter, the Colts finally got some momentum, answering with 17 points in the second quarter compared to just 7 for the Broncos. And they would have had even more points on the scoreboard had it not been for a fumble by Reggie Wayne in the closing minutes of the first quarter as he tried to score off a nice catch-and-run. But the defender punched the ball loose and it rolled out of the endzone for a touchback.
The Colts' first points came on a Mike Vanderjagt 28-yard field goal followed by a nice 27-yard strike across the middle from Manning to Reggie Wayne (3-80-1) at the expense of veteran safety John Lynch. Later in the quarter, Manning connected with Marvin Harrison (4-37-1) from 18 yards out when the two tight-end formation and a nice fake drew the defenders to the middle, allowing Harrison to drift out to the sidelines alone. When he pulled in the pass, he was able to walk the final two steps into the end zone.
Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie gave the Colts secondary some problems, pulling in five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. On his touchdown reception in the second quarter, he left Nick Harper trailing and saw Waine Bacon arrive too late to help with deep coverage, allowing him to grab the 40-yard pass from Jake Plummer (10-16-150, 1 TD).
Although the teams went into the half tied at 17, the second half opened disasterously for the Colts when rookie Jerome Dennis fumbled the kickoff, setting Denver up at the Colts' 30. Four plays later the Broncos had a 7-point lead on Anderson's 2-yard run.
After Manning was sacked on third down of the next possession, the Colts pulled him from the game and turned the reigns over to Jim Sorgi. But before he got his first chance, the Broncos tacked on another Elam field goal with roughly 7 minutes left in the third quarter.
Sorgi turned in yet another lukewarm performance (10-18-99-1 TD, 1 int). With the exception of one 8-play drive in the fourth quarter that resulted in a touchdown, Sorgi threw an interception -- and could have ended up with three interceptions on the night if Broncos defenders hadn't dropped two other errant passes. His other three possessions resulted in a punt and two instances of turning the ball over on downs.
Four of Sorgi's ten completions and 50 of his passing yards came on his touchdown drive. That means he went 6-14 for 49 yards on his other four possessions. Next weekend, when the Colts backups are expected to play the entire game, Sorgi better show some significant progress or he could soon have 3rd-string quarterback Tom Arth breathing down his neck.
The Broncos added a late touchdown with just over two minutes remaining to put the game away for good, leaving a number of questions for the Colts starters and coaches as they await the start of the regular season. At the forefront should be how are they going to do a better job of protecting the ball -- not to mention their franchise quarterback -- before they square off against a Baltimore Raven defense that will be hungry for sacks and for turnovers on September 11th?
They've got two weeks to figure it out.
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