INDIANAPOLIS --Wins in the Hoosier State, no matter when or how they come, are worth celebrating for the Broncos.
The stadiums of downtown Indianapolis -- the since-demolished RCA Dome and the nine-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium -- have been twin houses of horror for the Broncos over the decades. The Broncos came into Thursday night with just one win in the Crossroads of America in the last quarter-century.
But thanks to a sterling relief performance by Brock Osweiler and a strong ground game, the Broncos overcame an early deficit to pull away for a 25-13 win, earning their second triumph in five days after an eight-game losing streak.
Why did the Broncos win?
Because Brock Osweiler steadied the ship**
With Trevor Siemian out after suffering a left shoulder injury when he was sacked by Indianapolis' Barkevious Mingo late in the first quarter, Osweiler entered the huddle for the first time since Denver's Week 11 loss to the Bengals and delivered some of his best work as a pro, completing 12 of 17 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He played with great poise," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "He played clean, smart football for us and the result was a win."
Osweiler started the comeback in the second quarter by leading an 11-play, 85-yard drive to the Broncos' first score -- which he provided on an 18-yard scramble on third-and-9 with 1:26 left before halftime. Osweiler's run and dive over the goal line gave the Broncos their first score and momentum.
Osweiler and Siemian spread the football around. Three receivers -- Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer -- finished with 60 or more yards receiving. Tight end Jeff Heuerman added 54 yards on a catch-and-run that gave Osweiler his second touchdown pass of the night.
"Brock is the ultimate preparer," running back C.J. Anderson said. "That's something that he learned from 18 [Peyton Manning], from his time being here. You can see that he still goes through the reps and still talks about every situation, even though he wasn't playing, so when his time came, he was ready."
Because the Broncos established the run**
Denver came out showing I-formation, offset-I and two-tight end looks and stuck with them throughout the game, establishing a base of power football that was the foundation of their offensive effort and also set the passing game up for more success as Indianapolis' defense remained off-balance.
"When you're running the ball the way we're running it, it just makes the quarterback's job easier, and it makes the job easier for our big playmakers on the outside," Anderson said. "There was a lot of one-on-one coverage, and it let our playmakers make plays. We've got people in the box, so Cody and Jeff and D.T. and Emmanuel and Bennie [Fowler III] can make plays. It always feels good when Brock can drop back and know what kind of coverage he's getting."
With the offensive line paving the way with huge holes, Anderson burst through for 158 yards on 30 carries, posting a 5.3-yards-per-carry average. Devontae Booker added another 39 yards on 10 carries as the Broncos finished the game with 213 yards on 45 carries, good for a 4.7-yard average.
Anderson's carry and yardage totals were his highest since he ran 32 times for 168 yards in a Nov. 30, 2014 win at Kansas City. The Broncos are 12-0 when he carries the football at least 20 times, including his 23-carry performance in Super Bowl 50.
"He's a volume back. He needs multiple carries to get going, and you see what he can do: He can run through tackles if he gets volume," Joseph said.
But Osweiler played a role in that -- and not just because of his scoring scramble.
"Obviously, our offensive line did a phenomenal job, and C.J. and our backs did a phenomenal job running the ball," Heuerman said. "But hats off to Brock, because a lot of those plays were checked. There were a lot of looks where he had to get up there and make the right check to the right run play."
The Broncos are now 5-0 this season when they run more often than they throw.
"When you're in even games, you can stay with the running game, and when you're down by two or three scores, it's tough to stay with the running game," Joseph said. "So even when you're down by a field goal or a touchdown, you can stay with it, because you're one score out. When you're down by three scores, you can't."
Because the Broncos held the ball for most of the fourth quarter**
Denver sealed the deal against a fatigued Colts defense by grinding out a 16-play, 62-yard drive that included 11 runs for 46 yards by Anderson and Booker and chewed up nine minutes, 40 seconds of clock time.
The Broncos converted a pair of third downs on a 20-yard Osweiler-to-Cody Latimer pass and a 7-yard Anderson run. But the most crucial play of the series was a Colts penalty: a 15-yard face-mask infraction against linebacker Antonio Morrison that allowed the drive to stay alive even after two penalties had put the Broncos into a third-and-21 situation.
The drive consumed another six minutes, 13 seconds of game clock after that play, narrowing the Colts' window for a potential late-game rally.
Because Latimer made another good adjustment to the ball**
For the second consecutive game, Latimer made a big play near the left sideline -- this one in the end zone for a 22-yard score that put the Broncos in front, 14-13, in the third quarter. Latimer judged Osweiler's pass, breaking back against cornerback D.J. White to make the grab for his second touchdown in the last four games.
Latimer has delivered steady production since he moved up to the No. 3 receiving spot in Week 9. He has 15 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns since then, including three catches for 60 yards Thursday. He also grabbed the two-point conversion pass from Osweiler with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter after Heuerman's touchdown catch to put the Broncos in front by two scores.
"It's been fun to see Cody make plays down the field," Joseph said.
Because the defense generated more pressure as the game progressed
As the offense gradually wore down the Colts, Denver's defense was able to sustain pressure on Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett, making him more uncomfortable as the game progressed. The Broncos hit Brissett five times and limited his options, leaving him looking to his tight ends and running backs far more often than his wide receivers.
Stripped of its explosive potential, the Colts' offense gradually rolled to a stop. Its only touchdown came on its first drive, which had the advantage of starting at midfield after Kenny Moore II's interception and 25-yard return.