Big Defensive Plays at Critical Times Key to Colts' Victory Over Denver
The Colts' offensive numbers on Sunday weren't bad.
But they only told part of the story -- and maybe not the most important part of the story.
Because while Colts quarterback Peyton Manning continued to put together one of the most impressive starts of a 10-time Pro Bowl career, it was the Colts' defense in clutch situations that defined a 27-13 victory over the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High Sunday.
The key for the Colts Sunday? Not just defense -- red-zone defense.
"They did a tremendous job down there," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said after Indianapolis won despite being out-gained 519-365 in yardage.
The Broncos drove inside the Colts' 20-yard line five times, but their only touchdown came on a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Orton to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd on the first Denver drive of the second half.
The Colts held the Broncos on downs at the Colts 1, 12 and 20, with the most memorable stop coming in the first half when the Broncos failed to score after 1st-and-goal at the 1. The Broncos also kicked field goals after reaching the Indianapolis 7 in the first half and the 16 in the second.
"Any time you can hold a team in this league to a non-scoring effort in the red zone, it's pretty hard to do," Caldwell said. "Our guys did a great job. They may have stammered a bit along the way but they certainly didn't break.
"They got a real stance going in the red zone and made a lot of big plays down there."
Said cornerback Jacob Lacey, "I think we stepped up at the right times, and we made some big stops."
Perhaps the key stop came on 4th-and-1 from the 1 in the second quarter. With the Colts lead 13-0, a run left by Broncos running back Laurence Maroney originally was ruled a touchdown. Caldwell challenged the ruling and replays showed that Maroney's knee made contact with the ground just before he stretched the ball over the goal line.
"They didn't show it down on the field so we couldn't see it," Caldwell said. "So the guys upstairs had to get an opportunity to see it and we had to wait until they had a chance to review it. Once they saw it they were pretty adamant that his knee was down."
Colts linebacker Gary Brackett made the tackle to stop Maroney.
"Give credit to our defensive line," Brackett said. "They did a great job creating penetration, and our linebackers played downhill. I think it was close. I knew it was a good sign when they decided to replay the play.
"I knew it too, so I'm glad Coach threw the flag and we got it overturned."
The Colts' victory Sunday may not rank among the most dominant of their recent run of success, and in a lot of ways, the Broncos controlled the game. But the victory also was the kind veteran teams get, teams that know how to win and have the players to make key plays at the right times.
That, as much as anything is what the NFL is about. The more dominant statistical team doesn't always win and on Sunday, the Colts' experience and ability to make more big plays at more critical times than Denver put them into a first-place tie in the AFC South after three weeks.