Bolden's return sparks comeback bid**
It's been a long time since we've seen the Broncos create an explosive play on a punt return.
The last time the Broncos scored on one, Trindon Holliday sliced and diced through the Giants' coverage for an 81-yard score that put the Broncos up 38-16 en route to a 41-23 romp at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 15, 2013.
Since that day, seven Broncos fielded 147 punts — including 54 that were fair-caught. None ended in the opposing end zone.
Ball-security issues and fading explosiveness from primary returners Holliday and Isaiah Burse in 2014 led to the occasional use of "punt catchers" like Eric Decker and Wes Welker. But it was Decker who came closest to breaking one for a touchdown; late in the first half of a January 2014 divisional-round win over San Diego, he raced 47 yards before falling at the San Diego 30.
Emmanuel Sanders had earned the spot coming into this season with previous experience returning punts, sure hands and his quick feet. However, with Sanders battling injuries in recent weeks, Bolden made his regular-season debut against the Colts after fielding some punts in preseason.
With 15 seconds left in the first half, there was little pressure to create, but as we've seen time and time again, the Broncos just need a small to capitalize on it.
Bolden took the booming punt all the way at the Broncos' 17-yard line. The punt-return team began setting up to block the return, creating an alley down the right sideline. With one hit, Bolden could have been knocked out of bounds and the half could end. OLB Shaquil Barrett, WR Bennie Fowler, ILB Todd Davis and CB Bradley Roby made key blocks to seal off Colts defenders, some of whom missed angles to wrap up Bolden.
Bolden picked up fellow safety David Bruton Jr. as a blocker at midfield, and Bruton would absorb a hit by punter Pat McAfee to free Bolden for the touchdown.
After the Colts had scored on three straight possessions, the Broncos needed a spark to stem the bleeding and to help them get back into the game. Previously the defense had provided that spark with turnovers and touchdowns, and this time it was special teams. Bolden's play even doubled the Broncos' average punt-return yardage on the season from 5.4 yards before Sunday's game to 10.9.
The team has been resilient enough to battle back to victory from deficits large and small, and they knew they weren't out of this one, either.
"We always think like that," Bolden said. "It doesn't matter if we're up, behind. It doesn't matter. It's just the way we think."
The Broncos lose their first matchup to the Colts in Indianapolis.
His score sparked an offensive outburst after the break, with QB Peyton Manning tossing a 64-yard touchdown to Sanders to open the second half. The Broncos would find the end zone again with an 80-yard drive capped by a one-yard pass to TE Owen Daniels, and it seemed like the Broncos would come out victorious again.
"We were thinking that the whole time, especially after Omar's return," WR Demaryius Thomas said. "That was big going into halftime and then we came out and scored again as an offense. We knew it was a game and would be a good game, but the only thing we were saying on the sideline was 'We're going to win this game.'"
But the comeback would come up just short after an interception gave the Colts the ball with six minutes left and a 27-24 lead. Indianapolis' offense would stretch out the drive and get key first downs to hold the ball until the clock ran out.
"It's tough. I think we saw some things we could grow on. It's kind of some of the same things we've been doing the whole season but we came up short this time. It's basically go back, watch film and get better this week because we've got another good football team coming in." Thomas said.
- Ben Swanson
Daniels eclipses 100 yards**
In a game that saw offensive struggles, tight end Owen Daniels was the bright spot on the Broncos' offense. For the first time this season, Daniels was Denver's leading receiving weapon with 102 yards and a touchdown on six receptions.
Averaging 17 yards per reception, Daniels was a key target for quarterback Peyton Manning. Daniels' standout contribution came in the third quarter on second-and-two when Manning found Daniels for a 37-yard pass that set up a game-tying field goal.
"It always feels good to be able to contribute like that," Daniels said. "You always want it to come with a win, but to get involved like the way they had us involved today was nice. It felt good to make plays."
The 100-yard game is the fifth of his 10-year NFL career, and the first since 2011 when he tallied 100 yard on seven catches against the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of the Houston Texans. Daniels' six receptions were the fewest he's collected for a 100-yard game in his career.
Daniels' key performance came at a pivotal time for the Broncos after they added two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis on Monday -- and Daniels has been more than willing to help out the new guy. Following his first week learning a new offense, Davis got on the field for nine plays on offense.
"He had a lot on his plate this week in terms of learning what we were doing, but he he had some spot areas today we were involving him in," Daniels said. "But the more he knows, the more he learns about our offense, we can involve him more. With two or three tight ends on the field, the defense has to make the decision on what personnel they want to put in and they have to prepare for that stuff during the week. So I think it's a good addition for our offense."
With Davis making his debut, he can help the tight end corps with its depth and allow them to rotate when needed to play more two-tight end sets when they want to, which is something Head Coach Gary Kubiak had hoped for since the start of the season.
"We want to do more two-tight end stuff which we did more of," Daniels said. "You never really know who's going to get the ball but it gave me some opportunities to win and I think [Manning] did a good job finding me and great play calling as well. So nice to be involved more."
- Allie Raymond
Following Sunday's game, the following promotions are available:
- Arby's is offering one-dollar roast beef sandwiches because the Broncos scored three touchdowns.**
- McDonald's is offering fans in Colorado one-dollar Big Mac sandwiches or one-dollar sausage egg McMuffins on Monday and 30 percent off any jersey in the Broncos team store.