Colts need Luck to hand Broncos' first loss of the NFL season
Indianapolis capitalise on litany of Denver mistakes in a not so happy homecoming for Manning
It was just Peyton Manning's luck.
On his first trip back to Lucas Oil Stadium, he and his teammates had an off night. His successor and his old team, they got it right.
Andrew Luck threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, handing Denver a 39-33 loss - their first of the season - without even none of Luck's trademark fourth-quarter comebacks.
"It's not real fun watching him," Luck said of Manning. "But he is something to watch."
Heading into the game, Manning and Denver (6-1) looked unbeatable. The Broncos were scoring points by the dozens amid a 17-game regular-season winning streak and showed no signs of even hitting a speed bump.
Then came what was supposed to be Manning's happy homecoming. Nothing went right and now the Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's lone unbeaten team.
He lost a fumble, threw an interception and was sacked four times - twice by Robert Mathis, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Manning era.
Broncos kick returner Trindon Holliday fumbled twice, losing one that led to a Colts touchdown. Denver's defence committed inexplicable penalties in the second half, giving the Colts more opportunities than they needed, and the Broncos' last good chance fizzled when Denver running back Ronnie Hillman lost a fumble inside the Colts five-yard line with 3:03 left.
With Luck and the Colts repeatedly taking advantage, even Manning could not rescue the Broncos. While Manning finished with solid numbers, 29 of 49 for 386 yards with three touchdown passes, he certainly was not himself. Passes fluttered, sailed, and were broken up.
Luck was 21 of 38 for 228 yards with three scores and no turnovers in ending Denver's pursuit of perfection. Indianapolis (5-2) extended its lead in the AFC South and still has not lost consecutive games since Luck arrived in the NFL last year.
"This is a game we need to learn from. We, I guess, had four turnovers and still somehow had a chance to win that game," Manning said. "I would have liked to have seen it go to a two-point game toward the end and see what would have happened, but it never got to that point. You can go back to parts of the game and we got behind, mistakes there. But we still had a chance at the end. We have to improve from this game because we weren't as sharp execution-wise as we'd like to be." Admittedly, this was no typical night for Manning.
The weekend's marquee matchup was the NFL's most anticipated homecoming since Brett Favre went back to Green Bay - with the dreaded Minnesota Vikings - in 2009.
And when Manning first ran onto the field, some sections in the lower bowl looked like a checkerboard of Colts blue and Broncos orange. They roared for No18 in a 90-second video tribute featuring some of his most memorable moments with the Colts including the record-breaking pass to Marvin Harrison for most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver duo and when he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in rainy Miami.
Manning responded to the standing ovation by taking off his helmet, waving to the fans and mouthing, "Thank you".