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Stopped Short

Posted Sep 26, 2010

The Broncos had their chances against the Colts on Sunday at INVESCO Field at Mile High. But several impressive offensive performances weren't enough to offset red zone struggles in a 27-13 loss to the defending AFC Champions.

DENVER -- Throughout the week, Head Coach Josh Daniels had several chances to reflect on the Broncos' loss in Indianapolis last season. When thinking back on the nine-point defeat, the stat that particularly caught the head coach's attention was his squad's inability to come away with touchdowns on two of its four red-zone chances.

In Sunday's contest at INVESCO Field at Mile High, five Denver trips inside the Colts 20-yard line yielded a pair of field goals and three turnovers on downs. With just six points on a handful of red zone trips, it was once again easy for McDaniels to pinpoint how his team ended up with a 27-13 loss.

"They were better than we were (in the red zone) by far, and until we finish drives on offense and take care of the football and then keep them out more when they get their chances, it'll be tough to beat really good teams," McDaniels said. "That's what it was today."

Kyle Orton finished with a career-high 476 passing yards and a touchdown, connecting on 37-of-57 attempts en route to the second-highest single-game passing total in Broncos history. Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney both topped the 100-yard receiving mark -- combining for 309 receiving yards and a touchdown -- to help the Broncos (1-2) rack up a season-high 519 yards of total offense.

With that offensive success and some timely defense, the Broncos seemed well-equipped to hang tough in a shootout against four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning and the defending AFC Champions. Yet a pair of turnovers that set up Colts scores and consistent red zone struggles kept the home team from surging above the .500 mark for the first time in 2010.

"I think at the end of the day we just got beat by a good football team," said Orton, whose single-game passing total was only topped by Jake Plummer's 499 yards against Atlanta on Oct. 31, 2004. "They made mistakes, too, but they capitalized on more plays than we did."

The Colts won relying on the formula that has earned them a league-high nine straight postseason trips. Manning, who entered the game leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, hit for 325 passing yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of scoring strikes to Austin Collie. The Colts defense -- lauded throughout the week for its speed and veteran savvy -- buckled down to shut down the Broncos on three different fourth-down opportunities inside the red zone.

The biggest came with the Broncos down by a touchdown and facing a fourth-and-3 from the Colts 12-yard line with 8:46 left in the game.

McDaniels elected to keep the offense on the field and Orton looked quickly to his right for Lloyd, who finished with six catches for a game-high 169 receiving yards and his first touchdown of the season. But this time, quarterback and receiver were not on the same page and the pass flew well off the mark.

The Colts took over and embarked on a 9-play, 88-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 23-yard scoring pass from Manning to Collie that effectively sealed the Broncos' fate.

"We're going to be aggressive this year," Lloyd said. "I think we've established that in our first three games. You should expect to see that from us and you should be happy to see that from us. Once we start converting those fourth downs it's going to hurt the other team."

The first of those opportunities came in the second quarter when the Broncos earned a first-and-goal at the Colts 1-yard line. Laurence Maroney, who made his team debut and earned the start with Knowshon Moreno out, got stopped for no gain twice before Orton missed Demaryius Thomas on a fade route.

On fourth down, the officials originally ruled that Maroney had broken into the end zone and signaled a touchdown before the call was overturned by replay.

"It's one of those things that the next time I can't let the ref be the judge," Maroney said. "I've got to get all the way in for sure."

The Broncos' final possession of the game ended with Thomas unable to bring down a pass in the end zone on a 4th-and-13, capping an offensive performance in which the only Denver touchdown came on a 48-yard bomb from Orton to Lloyd.

"This is a game that you're going to win with touchdowns, not field goals," McDaniels said. "Certainly, we didn't come away with anything in those situations, but I'd do the same thing again."

In a game they never led, the Broncos also struggled early securing the football. First, Perrish Cox muffed a punt leading to a Colts field goal. On the following possession, Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey jumped an Orton pass and returned it into Broncos territory to set up Manning's first touchdown pass.

That proved one of Orton's lone mistakes on a day when he was forced to throw often with the running game struggling and his team hoping to come back against one of the NFL's best. He moved the ball well throughout the game, but after converting 62.5 percent of his team's red zone chances into touchdowns in his first two games of 2010, Orton struggled to finish drives Sunday.

"They play a tough coverage that is hard to throw the ball against down there, and we just did not execute," Orton said. "Everything has to happen fast, everybody has to be on the same page and just a few plays we weren't."

The sixth-year quarterback's career-best passing performance came before a cast of Broncos royalty. On a hot, sunny afternoon, the Broncos and a sold out home crowd honored recent Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Floyd Little. The running back was presented with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony, where he was joined on the field by Broncos Hall of Famers Gary Zimmerman and John Elway and Broncos President and CEO Pat Bowlen among others.

Ultimately, the Broncos couldn't add a second straight home win to that celebration. In the locker room afterward, players readily admitted that they weren't precise enough when it counted to beat a team that has built its respected reputation on making plays in those situations.

"If you don't come away with touchdowns, it's hard to beat a good team like the Colts," said Correll Buckhalter, who chipped in with a season-high 33 receiving yards. "We fell short today. The Colts are a good team, and you have to execute on all your P's and Q's to beat those guys."

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