ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Colts know how to claw their way back back into a game.
The entire country saw that last season in their 2013 wild card matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Colts were down by 28 early in the third quarter, Andrew Luck threw three interceptions and the Colts were still able to come away with the 45-44 victory.
When Luck found T.Y. Hilton downfield for a 64-yard TD with less than five minutes left in the game, they completed the second-largest comeback in playoff history.
The Chiefs were bitten by the Luck and the resilient Colts. Just over 17 weeks ago, the Broncos learned first-hand how these Colts can deplete a seemingly safe lead.
"You know that no matter what you guys do in that first half, no matter what kind of leads you think you have, you can't relax," Julius Thomas said of playing the Colts. "You're playing against a team that's one of the top offenses in the league. You know that they're going to be able to put up points and we've got to continue to keep playing throughout the game.
See the best moments captured in the Broncos' win over the Colts on Sunday night.
"It's going to take 60 minutes of football to win in the playoffs and we know that. So that's what we're going to have in our minds going into the game and 59.5 is not going to be enough."
With 19 seconds left in the first half of the Week 1 matchup, Luck was able to sneak into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown run but the Broncos still led the Colts 24-7 going into the locker room. Adam Vinatieri sent a 25-yard FG through the uprights and the Colts were able to garner two touchdowns (including a 42-yard TD reception by Dwayne Allen) in the second half.
The only time the Broncos got on the board in the final 30 minutes was a Montee Ball 3-yard TD run.
"First half, we were very dominant," Chris Harris Jr. said. "And we kind of came off the gas pedal in the second half and I mean that's kind of, it kind of turned into 7-on-7 to how they played the Bengals. Just kind of Andrew Luck throwing the ball every play. I think he threw the ball 50 times versus us. So that's something I'll be aware of, we'll be aware of. So we expect 40 throws, 40-50."
Andrew Luck finished the game 35-of-53 for 370 yards to go with two TDs and two interceptions.
The Colts got the ball back with just under three minutes left in the matchup and Luck orchestrated a final, futile drive that ended with a pass that fell incomplete to Reggie Wayne in Broncos territory. The home team was able to maintain the lead and start the season with a W. But the Colts certainly kept it interesting.
The Colts went 3-of-9 on third down in the second half compared to the Broncos' 1-of-7. In addition, Luck and Co. had 271 second-half yards and the Broncos managed just 87.
Terrrance Knighton said the Broncos "let them off the hook."
Early on this season, the Broncos had the tendency to allow teams to get back into games after garnering a substantial lead. Week 2, the Broncos were up 21-10 on the Chiefs at the end of the first half but a scoreless third quarter and only a field goal in the fourth allowed the Chiefs to stay in the game.
The AFC West rivals nearly tied the game as they made it all the way to the Broncos red zone with less than 30 seconds left. But Knighton's pass deflection on fourth down sealed the Broncos' win.
After going up 28-7 in the third quarter when playing the Chargers earlier this season, two Antonio Gates kept the Chargers in the game and brought them within two scores with the Broncos eventually winning 35-21.
But the Broncos have shaken this habit of allowing leads to dissipate.
"It's something we've developed throughout the season was having that killer instinct to put teams away and not giving them any hope. If we're up in the game, that's something we'll reiterate," Knighton said on Monday. "And if we're down in the game, it'll also be something that we talk about as far as keep fighting and have that mentality to never stop playing.
"Regardless of what the scoreboard is, we'll continue to play hard for four quarters."