INDIANAPOLIS —** This one felt familiar. The Broncos had faced a double-digit deficit on the road before — in Week 2 at Kansas City -- and came out victorious. They had shown flaws, but their strengths and opportunism had overcome them in even the most dire situations, and this game against the Colts seemed no different.
But this one didn't end like the four other games in which they fell behind. Denver came up short, falling 27-24, which seemed almost unthinkable because that they had always managed to find a way in each of the preceding games.
The Broncos lose their first matchup to the Colts in Indianapolis.
The Colts' early 17-point run on three consecutive first-half drives dug the Broncos into the largest deficit they have faced so far this season, but Omar Bolden's 83-yard punt return touchdown cut Indianapolis' lead to 10 points at halftime.
Momentum began shifting with the return, and right out of the halftime break the offense scored on its first possession with a 64-yard Peyton Manning bomb to Emmanuel Sanders. Another long drive later, the Broncos had evened the score.
Yet again, Denver showed its resiliency, much like the team had before. The Broncos' confidence was unwavering.
"When you're down—just like we took the positive when we were down 14-0 to Kansas City—there's always a positive when you're down and you're losing," running back C.J. Anderson said. "You're just showing as a team you can fight, you can fight. Like we've said before, it's going to take four quarters-plus to beat us."
No team had been able to do that until Sunday, and for a while, it seemed like the Colts would be like the handful of teams who came close before having their hearts ripped out at inopportune times.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would throw for another touchdown to kick off the final quarter, but Peyton Manning and the offense would counter with a score of their own.
After a 55-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to give Indianapolis a three-point lead, the Broncos had a chance to tie or jump out ahead for the first time. Like they had done time and time again, this was just the opening the offense needed.
Manning, who needed just three yards to surpass Packers great Brett Favre's all-time passing yardage record, was poised to make history while mounting an momentous drive. But it wasn't to be. Manning felt pressure closing in on him and threw to Demaryius Thomas, who was guarded closely by cornerback Darius Butler. Butler slid in front of Thomas and upended the offense and the Broncos with an interception that would give the Colts possession for the duration of final six minutes until the clock ran out.
"We felt good about what we were doing offensively," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We had some momentum, we were moving the ball, we were making plays so we felt good about ourselves going into that and that's obviously tough to give the ball right back."
Regardless of which side of the ball they play on, many Broncos noted that their play was simply uncharacteristic of how they usually perform.
"It's always more [frustrating] when you don't play A-plus Broncos football, and today we definitely didn't play our A-plus game and we understand that," Anderson said. "And we need to keep moving forward and understand that we need to come out moving fast and continue to keep doing what we do and how we do it, which is playing A-plus football week in and week out."
They had been playing at that level just a week earlier, shredding the Packers with an outstanding offensive balance and unyielding defensive prowess. Against Indianapolis, however, the rushing game faltered, taking a step back with just 35 net yards, and the defense allowed 27 first downs, including seven by penalty and 12 on third down.
"We were just out of whack today," safety T.J. Ward said. "We just didn't play Bronco football. Too many mistakes on defense. We didn't tackle well. It wasn't the scheme that got us. It was assignment errors and penalties."
Amid the postmortum, the team could still recognize that the sky is not falling following the first loss of the season, as demoralizing as it was to fall in such a manner.
"We're still the same team," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We've still got playmakers; we just can't bring this type of effort next week at all."
And with this loss sure to leave a lingering bad taste, the Broncos will work toward making sure no game will feel like this one.