The win gave Denver (10-6) the AFC’s final wild-card spot, and a trip to Indy for a rematch next Sunday in which Manning will almost certainly throw more than the two passes he attempted in this game.
“I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but I still think we sent a message today,” said Broncos safety John Lynch, who made a vicious, helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts fullback Dallas Clark early in the game. “We got some stuff done.”
The result eliminated Jacksonville and Baltimore from the playoff race and meant the Broncos will start the postseason at the RCA Dome, the site of their 41-10 humiliation by the Colts (12-4) in last year’s first round.
The Colts came into this game locked into the third seed in the AFC playoffs and knowing a rematch with Denver was very possible. They had nothing to play for, little incentive to show anything, and acted accordingly.
Manning played just one series, throwing two passes and finishing the regular season with the same NFL-record 49 touchdowns he entered the week with.
“I’m not sure what I got from the sidelines,” Manning said. “I’ll let you know after the game next Sunday.”
Manning wasn’t the only one to sit.
Edgerrin James ran one time for minus-2 yards. The Colts started three rookies in their defensive backfield and Plummer took advantage, writing a nice closing chapter to a difficult regular season in which he took every snap.
His 246 yards gave him 4,089 for the season, surpassing John Elway (1993) for the single-season franchise record. His two touchdowns, including a 38-yard, over-the-shoulder catch by Ashley Lelie, gave Plummer 27 for the season, which tied Elway for the team record.
“I’ve never been about stats,” Plummer said. “I’m really happy to be back in the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, Plummer avoided any interceptions and finished the year with 20, many of which cost the Broncos dearly in a wildly inconsistent season.
By going 1-for-2, Manning finished the year with a 121.1 passer rating, easily breaking Steve Young’s all-time record.
With the record secure and his afternoon over, Manning stood on the sideline with the headphones on and watched rookie Jim Sorgi lead the Colts.
“If we were going to have Peyton and our whole group out there, then we wanted to use everything we had,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “We weren’t going to do that if we were going to have to play these guys again.”
Sorgi (16-for-25, 168 yards, two touchdowns) completed his first seven passes and led Indy on a 56-yard drive for an early 7-0 lead. Later, he hit Reggie Wayne on a timing route and Wayne spun away from two Broncos for a 71-yard score that cut Denver’s 10-point lead to 17-14.
From there, though, Denver slowly pulled away and got ready for a playoff trip under circumstances very similar to last year.
The Broncos qualified for the 2003 postseason with a 31-17 win over Indy in Week 15—Manning played that game—but got humiliated two weeks later. Manning threw five touchdowns that day and Denver remained without a postseason victory since winning the 1998 Super Bowl.
“We’re not going to fall for the same crap we did back there last year,” said Broncos defensive tackle Trevor Pryce.
Lynch’s hit on Clark led was brutal. It led to a fumble and an apparent Denver touchdown.
On review, though, referee Pete Morelli ruled the pass incomplete. The touchdown was nullified, a flag for unnecessary roughness that had been thrown, then picked up, was reinstated, and Lynch will likely pay a price in the form of a fine from the NFL.
Given the pending rematch, he said he wasn’t all that upset about it.
“You’ve got to hit a team like that,” he said. “They’re so skilled, so fast, you’ve got to do something to slow them down.”
Notes: Lelie finished with seven touchdowns of 30 yards or longer, the most in the NFL. … Sorgi became the first Colts quarterback to throw a touchdown other than Manning since 1997. … Plummer became the first Broncos quarterback to take every snap.