Oct 20, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) walks to the sideline during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
KUSA - Robert Mathis had been waiting 11 years to put a hit on Peyton Manning.
After playing nine seasons with Manning in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Colts defensive end made the most of his first hit ever by sacking the Denver Broncos' quarterback at the goal line Sunday night and causing a fumble in the second quarter. The ball bounced around in the end zone and was recovered by Erik Walden, whose shoulder it was confirmed was out of bounds for a safety (not a touchdown).
It certainly changed the tone of the game as the Colts went on to a 39-33 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in Manning's first game back in Indianapolis. It was the Broncos' first loss of the season and ends their regular-season winning streak at 17 games.
After the sack and safety, to pull within 14-12, the Colts turned their ensuing possession into another score.
"That's my job, that's how I help my team," said Mathis, who sacked Manning a second time. "It felt good."
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was on a mission to show the game was not just about the former quarterback's return. Luck connected with Stanley Havili for a 20-yard touchdown play and a 19-14 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
Denver never led again.
"I think our first half was a little spotty in spots," Broncos coach John Fox said.
Manning, who was 7-of-10 passing for 115 yards before the sack, went on a stretch where he was 9-of-18 passing for just 47 yards.
But, he found his wits in the fourth quarter. Trailing 33-17 going into the final 15 minutes, Manning led two scoring drives that took just 11 plays and covered 103 yards to pull Denver within 36-30, with 8:44 left in the game.
The first fourth-quarter scoring drive covered 80 yards in just three plays (ending with Manning's 31-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas), and the second came after Duke Ihenacho stripped the ball from Colts running back Trent Richardson at the Colts' 23-yard line. Denver scored eight plays later to get within 36-30 on Knowshon Moreno's 1-yard run, which was set up by Manning going 4-for-6 passing for 21 yards on the drive.
Manning finished the game 29-of-49 passing for 386 yards and had his NFL-record setting streak end. He was sacked four times.
"This is a game we need to learn from," Manning said. "We, I guess, had four turnovers and still somehow had a chance to win that game. I certainly would have liked to have seen it go to a 2-point game down at the end, but we never got there. We certainly have to improve because we weren't as sharp execution-wise as we would like to be."
Manning's 22 TD passes through the first six games was a record, and though he had three TD passes Sunday the record for seven games remains 27 by New England's Tom Brady in 2007 (when he went on to set the NFL single-season record with 50 TD passes).
After forcing the Colts' eighth punt of the night, Denver got the ball back at its 15-yard line with 7:07 left in the game. But, on the first play, Manning was intercepted over the middle by linebacker Pat Angerer, after linebacker Erik Walden rushed and got to the quarterback enough to tip the ball. The Colts made it a two-score game, 39-30, after Adam Vinatieri's 42-yard field goal with 6 minutes to play.
Manning and Wes Welker led the Broncos on another big drive after the Colts' field goal, but running back Ronnie Hillman's fumble at the Colts' 3-yard line with 3 minutes left in the game to all but end the Broncos' hopes.
"I would have liked to seen it get to a two-point game down there at the end," Manning said.
Denver added a field goal, but their ensuing onside kick try was recovered by the Colts with 12 seconds to play.
But it was the way Luck played in the first half that sparked Indianapolis' players and fans. Luck finished the game 21-of-38 for 228 yards passing and three touchdowns and ran in for another score.
After the Broncos' third three-and-out of the first half, the Denver defense made a big stop as the Colts' momentum was mounting. But during the drive Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey re-injured his left foot trying to stop Richardson. Bailey sprained his foot in the preseason and missed the first five regular-season games. He did not return to the game.
Starting at the 2-yard line after the Colts downed the punt near the goal line, Manning went 1-of-4 passing with three consecutive incomplete passes to end the drive at the 20. Unable to manage the clock well, Denver gave the Colts the ball with 1:35 left in the half, and Luck made the Broncos pay.
The second-year quarterback directed a six-play, 50- yard drive in 85 seconds to take a 26-14 lead with his third TD pass of the first half. It was the first time this season the Broncos trailed at halftime.
It didn't get any better in the second half as the Broncos did not score on the first drive after halftime for the first time this season.
The Colts extended their lead to 33-14 on Luck's 10-yard run on a drive that started at the Denver 41 after an unnecessary roughness penalty on Denver during the punt return. After that, Manning found his groove, but it wasn't enough to extend the Broncos' winning streak.
"I hope we get a chance to play these guys and maybe if there is a next time, it might be a little easier because it certainly was an emotionally draining week, there's no doubt about that," Manning said.
The Broncos next play at home Oct. 27 against Washington (2:25 p.m. kickoff) then have a bye on Nov. 3 before playing Nov. 10 at San Diego.
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