Indianapolis once again got off to a slow start, testing the Denver defense, finding out what would work and what wasn't going to work. As the game evolved, they figured it out and picked them apart in the second half for three touchdowns, a two-point conversion and a game-winning field goal. Until Sunday, no team had scored more than 18 points on the Broncos and they had only given up two touchdowns during the first six games. But until today, Denver hadn't met a team that has the real-time analytical skills plus the talent to back up the revised plan that the Colts possess.
One of the things Indianapolis obviously noticed by the time they headed into the locker room at halftime was the fact that they weren't exploiting Reggie Wayne's matchup against Darrent Williams nearly enough. Wayne had just one catch for 12 yards in the first 30 minutes. He finished the game with 10 catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Whoever figured that one out at halftime should get a gold star for this game.
A few days ago in an article I did with our Denver affiliate, BroncosUpdate.com, I mentioned that the Colts are starting to remind me a bit -- as much as I hate to say it -- of the New England Patriots during their peak years. I remember being frustrated by the number of times the Patriots "escaped" with narrow wins, believing that they weren't as good as their record indicated. But the Colts are starting to look more like them, methodically and efficiently doing what it takes, making adjustments throughout the game to beat each opponent before the time expires off the clock.
Sure, it's not as electrifying as the year when Peyton Manning & Co. rolled over teams and threw for 49 touchdowns, but if it's a Super Bowl Trophy that you seek for this team, you have to like the fact that they continue to find the way to win, no matter what teams throw at them during 60 minutes of play each week. And it's increasingly looking like they are figuring it out as they go along, calmly and methodically making the right adjustments to win the game.
That said, let's take a look at the Colts' 34-31 win and their seventh victory of the season....at first glance.
-- The Colts inactives for today's game were CB T.J. Rushing, TE Jerome Collins, DE Bo Schobel, G Matt Ulrich,and injured players S Bob Sanders, LB Keith O'Neil, WR Brandon Stokley and DT Montae Reagor. All of today's active roster players saw some game action with the exception of backup QB Jim Sorgi and WR Aaron Moorehead.
-- The temperature in Denver couldn't have been better. At kickoff, it was partly sunny and 70 degrees.
-- For the Colts run defense, it was like deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra once said. A few weeks ago against the Jaguars, they did a decent job against veteran Fred Taylor, but struggled with stopping rookie Maurice Jones-Drew. On Sunday against the Broncos, they were obviously well-prepared for the running style of Tatum Bell (13-27), but couldn't quite figure out how to stop rookie Mike Bell (15-136-2). Ironically -- and this will drive you a bit nuts -- the Colts were the only team at the Combine this year to hold a formal interview with Mike Bell, a really fine and poised young man that I interviewed prior to the draft out of the University of Arizona. He surprisingly went undrafted and signed with Denver. The Colts should be asking themselves how in the world they let him slip through their fingers like that after watching him in today's game.
-- The Colts obviously figured out at halftime that they were going to have their best success throwing the ball the rest of the way and evidently spotted some real weaknesses in coverage that they were able to exploit. Heading into this contest, the Colts were passing 54 percent of the time and during the first half of the game pretty much followed that pattern at 57 percent. But in the second half, they shifted that philosophy drastically, throwing on 22 out of 30 plays, 73 percent of the time. It paid off big, resulting in 28 points during 30 minutes of action.
-- I mentioned in the opening of this article what a tremendous job Reggie Wayne did with Peyton Manning in the second half. While he trails Marvin Harrison by 6 catches this season, he's now got three 100-yard receiving games compared to two for Harrison, 642 receiving yards compared to 553, and five touchdowns compared to three. Expect Harrison to do all he can to come up big next week as he strives to catch up in this friendly rivalry between these two great receivers.
-- Adam Vinatieri sure reinforced why he's worth every penny the Colts are paying him, didn't he? There wasn't a questionable kick in his four attempts. And his 48-yarder looked no different than his 30-yard attempt. Right down the middle and with authority each time.
-- Peyton Manning sure made Denver's highly-respected defense look pretty vulnerable. He completed a season-best 82.1 percent of his passes against them. And you know what I really loved as I watched this game? Every time the Broncos were driving and getting close to a score in the second half, television cameras would cut to the Colts sidelines and show Manning up and throwing with a determined look on his face, ready to go back to work and put more points on the scoreboard. He just wasn't going to lose this game, you could sense it just looking at him.
-- Jake Plummer had his highest completion percentage of the year to date at 61.9 percent. It'll be interesting to see if the Denver fans try to pin this loss on him despite that good passing performance since he coughed up the ball that led to a crucial Colts touchdown. But they should be wondering what happened to Tatum Bell. His 2.1 yards per carry was his worst performance of the season by far and opened the door for rookie Mike Bell to reopen the debate over who should be the starter at the running back position in Denver.
-- Despite Plummer's efficiency, the Colts secondary sure did their job today of keeping the Broncos receivers in front of them for most of the game, with the exception of the one lapse on the 45-yard completion to David Kircus. Javon Walker's 40 yards receiving was his lowest single-game total of the season and Rod Smith was virtually invisible with just two catches for 28 yards.
-- Today was a real oddity for the Colts rushing attack. The team relied on Joseph Addai for 17 carries while Dominic Rhodes was only given three opportunities. Previously they had pretty much split the carries. You have to wonder if Rhodes was having a problem or if the Colts just decided that Addai had the hot hand today and decided to stick with him. The rookie rushed for 93 yards, giving him his fifth game out of seven where he's averaged 4.8 yards per carry or better. Addai also snagged five passes for 37 yards. He's averaging 5.9 yards per carry rushing over his last three games.
-- In my "Behind Enemy Lines" feature for the Broncos fans this
week, I mentioned that the difference in this game could come down to a single
critical turnover, and with the Colts entering the game with a +6 ratio versus
Denvers' -1, I thought that could play into the hands of the Colts. When Jake
Plummer coughed up the ball deep in his own territory and Raheem Brock covered
the fumble, I was stunned that the Colts took as long as they did to throw out
the red flag challenging the play. I was equally as stunned as announcer Phil
Simms basically stated that it didn't matter if it was ruled a fumble because
the play had been ruled dead on the field. During this past offseason, the NFL
changed the rule to so that a quick whistle wouldn't stop the correct call from
being made once a replay was viewed. That turnover was huge in the outcome
of this game.
-- Kudos to tight end Dallas Clark, who got off to a rocky start but didn't lose his cool and finished with six catches for 68 yards, including some clutch catches when the team needed to move the chains.
-- The Broncos did at least one thing that most others have done against the Colts. They tried to incorporate something into their game plan that the Colts hadn't seen before. Coming into this contest, they hadn't completed many passes to their tight ends, using them more for blocking than as pass targets, especially rookie Tony Scheffler who had just two catches in his first six games.. So today what happens? He becomes a primary target and ties Javon Walker for the team lead in catches with four receptions on the day and posts a team-leading 51 receiving yards.
-- Both teams were pretty darn efficient in a number of categories. They both finished the day with a 64 percent third-down conversion efficiency, there was only one turnover (a fumble by the Broncos) in the game, the Colts were flagged just five times versus just three by Denver, and there was only a 2-minute differential in time of possession.
-- Middle linebacker Gary Brackett had a terrific day, despite the somewhat questionable late hit that was called against him early in the game on a Jake Plummer slide. Denver didn't get any points on the scoreboard as a result of that possession, and Brackett went on to lead the Colts with 13 tackles, a quarterback hit and by forcing the Jake Plummer fumble that was recovered deep in Denver territory in the second half.
-- The Colts coverage teams didn't get many opportunities to make tackles as the ball sailed in the high altitude in Denver. Both teams only had three returns each of any sort all day. On the three opportunities they did have, Colts rookies stepped up to make the plays. Freddy Keiaho had two of the tackles while Ryan LaCasse had the third.
-- The Colts' offensive line deserves a game ball for their pass protection efforts today. Out of 39 pass attempts by Indianapolis, Denver didn't register a sack and were only given credit for a single quarterback hit.
-- Today was the second time this season that Hunter Smith only had to punt once during a game. The last time that happened was in Week 2 against Houston.