There's room for two great quarterbacks in the hearts of Colts fans.
Peyton Manning put Indianapolis football on the map. The fans gave him a touching and deserved ovation before the game, a thank you for his 13 great years as the Colts' starter. But it's clear the Andrew Luck era is going to be pretty special, too.
Manning's return to Indianapolis was ruined by the Colts in a 39-33 win. The Broncos fell to 6-1, and the Colts solidified their status as a legitimate AFC contender.
It wasn't just the quarterbacks who decided the game, because no NFL game goes that way. The Colts put a lot of pressure on Manning, whose offensive line looks like a weakness. There was a great defensive gameplan and good execution by the Colts' defensive backs. Indianapolis shut down any Denver attempt to run the ball. The biggest play of the game was probably a fumble by Broncos back Ronnie Hillman, who never should have gotten the ball in the first place on first and goal after Denver had cut Indianapolis' lead to 39-30.
But the story of the passing of the torch in Indianapolis is so tempting. Even if Luck didn't want to touch it when asked about it on NBC's postgame report.
"I don’t know, I’ve never looked at (myself) as 'the guy who replaced Peyton,'" Luck said to NBC. "I just look at it as a chance to play football for a great team."
There might not be a franchise in football that wouldn't trade quarterback situations with the Colts. Luck is in his second year and at this point, you'd have to assume that it's a solid bet that he'll win a championship for Indianapolis. He has lived up to the incredible hype he had coming out of Stanford.
With all the attention on Manning this week, and after the huge ovation before the game that must have felt a bit awkward for Luck, the Colts' new quarterback played a brilliant game.
Luck was 21-of-38 for 228 yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. And he, like everyone rooting for the Colts, was sweating during the fourth quarter.
The Colts led 33-14 in the third quarter. But Manning kept putting pressure on the Colts. Manning and the Broncos were slowed down for a stretch in the second and third quarter after Robert Mathis' sack forced a fumble and a safety. But then Manning got hot again.
Manning, who went 29-of-49 for 386 yards, three touchdowns and an interception (it was a big turnover, but his arm was hit on the throw by the omnipresent Colts pressure), rallied the team. They moved down to the 2-yard line with a little more than three minutes to go. The Broncos could have cut the lead to two points with a touchdown, but for some reason Hillman was given the ball and coughed it up.
Denver got a field goal in the final seconds, but couldn't recover the onside kick and Indianapolis held on to win.
It was a big moment for Luck. He is still in Manning's shadow in many ways, which was easy to see this week. He probably will be until he helps the Colts win another Super Bowl. But this was a good night to make the point that while the Manning era was great, it's in the past. Colts fans are probably just fine with that.
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