DENVER --The Broncos accomplished their bottom-line goal: to secure a win, by a 31-24 count over the Indianapolis Colts. But they were mindful not to make too much of it, and lamented their shortcomings that allowed the Colts to score 24 of the game's last 31 points..
"Obviously we made some mistakes. We didn't do everything exactly as we would have wanted to but you see the potential that's there," said tight end Julius Thomas. "It's Week 1. We're going to have some hiccups. We talked about it coming into the game."
"There's a few things, man, that I'm a little disappointed with, as far as some plays that I could have stopped for us," added safety Rahim Moore. "I probably won't sleep well tonight."
He should, because he had two interceptions and flourished with T.J. Ward and Quinton Carter alongside him, which allowed him to roam and be in better position for takeaways. But keeping the win in its proper perspective comes with having racked up 15 wins between last September and January -- and then following that with a Super Bowl loss. Redemption won't come tonight, or with any game in the regular season.
"Come tomorrow, nobody cares what happened today," said Moore.
But for today, here's how the three keys to the game turned out:
- IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO REPLACE A SLOT MACHINE.**
But the village was a little stouter this time, as the Broncos emphasized two-tight end sets throughout the game. They opened in a two-tight end package, with Virgil Green joining Julius Thomas in the starting lineup, and ran it for 19 more plays in the first half, gaining 185 yards on 24 first-half plays when they used two tight ends. They lined up in traditional tight-end positions, at inside and outside wide receiver slots, and Green also worked as an H-back.
"We worked a lot of two-tight end packages all training camp," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "I think Virgil gives us some things that's a little bit of a formation and different look against some different defenses with him in there. I thought he did a good job in the blocking.
"We're always looking to mix it up in there, keep the defense off balance."
And the extra tight end helped the Broncos do better on third downs than they did in the three and a half games they played without Welker last year. They converted 39.0 percent of their third downs after Welker's second concussion last year; Sunday, they converted 50 percent of their 14 third downs (53.9 percent if you don't count kneeldowns). Much of that came from their ability to create third-and-short situations; they converted all three of their third-down runs, but went four-of-10 on third-down passes.
2. CORRAL ANDREW LUCK.
Until the Colts' last series of the first half, the Broncos' defense contained him. But six consecutive completions on the Colts' last drive before halftime changed the tenor of their offense -- and his performance. After averaging just 3.833 yards per action play (pass attempt, rush or sack) prior to that series -- and averaging just one first down every four plays -- he averaged 6.67 yards per play and moved the sticks once every 2.72 plays, more than enough to keep the Colts' offense humming.
The Broncos did notch three sacks, and hit him five times, but he was able to squeeze away. One one fourth-quarter play, Derek Wolfe appeared to have Luck sacked, but the 240-pound quarterback dragged him forward for a 1-yard gain.
Respect for Luck in the Broncos' locker room runs deep.
"When Manning retires, Andrew Luck, I believe, is going to take over the game," said Moore. "There's nothing he can't do. There's no throw he can't make. He's so strong. He can run. He has no weaknesses to me. He played (well) today."
3. PROTECT PEYTON MANNING.
For the most part, the Broncos succeeded. Manning was sacked once and hit twice more, but on one of the hits, he managed to find Julius Thomas for a 3-yard touchdown, getting the pass out before Cory Redding could arrive after the defensive end worked past left guard Orlando Franklin. Manning was only hit once after that score, his first of the game.