ENGLEWOOD, Colo.- ** With some new players making key plays, the Broncos defeated the Colts, 31-24.
Colts make Broncos sweat
The Broncos entered the locker room at halftime with a 24-7 lead. While the Colts were able to sneak in a score on an Andrew Luck 9-yard touchdown run before the end of the half, it seemed that the Broncos were in complete control of the game.
The home team had exactly twice the total yards of the Colts as the first 30 minutes came to an end. Plus, they had the ball to start the second half and Denver seemed poised for a rout.
But, Andrew Luck put his body on the line as he dove into the end zone for a touchdown and it seemed to give the Colts new life. The Colts had four of the last five scores and after a Broncos three-and-out, Andrew Luck and Co. got the ball back with 2:58 to go and the chance to tie the game. Rookie Bradley Roby, who felt that he would be targeted because of his inexperience, had a pass deflection on fourth-and-6 to save the game.
"It was tight at the very end. We said, 'We've got to make a play to win the game. We can't rely on the offense. It's on us.' Defense wins the game," Roby said. "We went back out there and did what we needed to do."
Peyton Manning said usually in season openers, teams start out sluggish due to jitters. But, the Broncos seemed to have the opposite problem with a drop off in productivity on both sides of the ball as the game progressed. The Broncos had just seven first downs in the second half and were 1-of-7 on third down.
"So we set the bar pretty high in the first half so it was disappointing in the second half in the three-and-out in the first series," Manning said. "For whatever reason we couldn't quite get over the hump and our execution wasn't as good. I don't think there was a huge change in our scheme or their scheme, we just didn't execute as well."
"So thank goodness we had the one touchdown drive, Demaryius [Thomas] had the nice play on the screen pass and Montee [Ball] made a heck of the run to get in the end zone and that drive ended up being the difference. Thank goodness our defense came up with some big stops."
Ball's touchdown put the Broncos up 31-10 with just under 10 minutes left. At the time, the Broncos still had a comfortable lead. But two Colts touchdowns later, Ball's score ended up being the winning score.
Broncos find a way to win despite missing key players
When Julius Thomas said any of Manning's weapons could play in the slot during Wes Welker's suspension, no one doubted him.
"We know we have a very talented team and we know we're deep at a lot of positions," Thomas said. "We know that we'll still find guys to throw the ball to; we'll still find a way to be a great offense. Everybody is going to have to do just a little bit extra and step up."
Thomas led the team with nine catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Emmanuel Sanders also had a great night. While he didn't match his preseason Week 3 performance where his five catches totaled 128 yards and two touchdowns, he made a diving catch for a 40-yard gain to set the Broncos up at the Indianapolis 4-yard line and two plays later Thomas scored.
Demaryius Thomas didn't make his usual impact: Targeted 11 times, he had four receptions. Andre Caldwell and Virgil Green also made contributions.
Brandon Marshall continued to be a consistent playmaker on defense. In his first NFL start he totaled seven solo tackles and one pass deflection. His biggest play of the game came on a goal line stand as Luck tried to force his way into the end zone. Marshall came up to the line of scrimmage and forced the Colts to turn the ball over on downs.
Brandon McManus, who stood in Matt Prater's starting spot, had six kickoffs for six touchbacks. His only field goal attempt was 21 yards, coming at the end of Denver's first possession.
New faces make their mark
Roby made the game-clinching play. He also tied Brandon Marshall for a team-high seven solo tackles.
But DeMarcus Ware racked up 1.5 sacks for 4.5 yards and had two quarterback hits. One sack came on third-and-goal as he forced his way around Anthony Castonzo to bring down Luck. Ware and the defensive line were all over the inexperienced Colts and kept Andrew Luck busy all night.
Ware said first impressions are important.
"We weren't perfect," Ware said. "We have a lot of things we do need to improve on. On the game as a whole, we played really well all through four quarters. The third quarter was a little bit shaky on a couple plays, but me, [CB Aqib] Talib and [S T.J.] Ward coming in, [DT Terrance] Knighton and all of us, we played a game that was good enough to win. With a W, it's easier to correct things. We're going to go in next week and correct those and get ready for our next game."
Aqib Talib tipped a pass from Luck that Rahim Moore was able to corral for his first interception of the game. Talib racked up three pass breakups and T.J. Ward totaled two tackles and one pass defended.
Ware sees good things in the defense's future.
"I think it's [headed in] the right direction," Ware said. "We have to always put four quarters together. We were able to do that. It wasn't the perfect four quarters that we wanted, but we can improve on it next week."