INDIANAPOLIS • A funny thing happened after the Colts took a three touchdown lead on Sunday. The Broncos, behind one of the greatest individual performances in NFL history by receiver Brandon Marshall and a defense that found a groove against Peyton Manning, lost a game it controlled.
The Broncos will scratch their heads a few times when they look back at their 28-16 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.
They became the first team to force Manning into three interceptions this season, and held Indianapolis without points on eight of nine drives during one stretch. From the time Denver fell behind 14-0 on Indianapolis’ second possession, the Broncos outgained the Colts 350-176.
And then there was Marshall. He caught 21 passes, breaking the NFL record of 20 set by Terrell Owens in 2000, for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Yet, the Broncos lost by double digits. The Colts are 13-0. The Broncos, 8-5, can at least feel like they have a chance to beat Indianapolis if they come back here in the playoffs.
“We’d love to see them again, but right now we’re just focused on getting to that point where we can finish those plays and finish those drives and beat them,” quarterback Kyle Orton said.
On Sunday, the checklist of questionable decisions and ill-timed breakdowns started before the opening kickoff.
Denver won the coin toss, and deferred to the second half, giving one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL the ball first. Manning completed 7-of-9 passes on Indianapolis’ first drive, including a touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said he hoped the Broncos could score before the end of the first half, then get the ball to start the second half. Colts coach Jim Caldwell and Manning both said after the game they wanted to get off to a fast start.
“Everybody talks about you have to start fast and get ahead. I don’t really believe that,” McDaniels said. “That hasn’t worked for anybody (against the Colts) all year.”
Pretty soon it was 14-0, and after Denver tailback Knowshon Moreno was stopped on a fourth and 1, the Colts took a 21-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Moreno was stopped on another fourth and 1 in Indianapolis territory. After Manning’s first interception, Broncos linebacker Darrell Reid was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. That and a holding penalty on guard Chris Kuper during the ensuing drive cost Denver a shot at a field goal before halftime.
The third quarter was baffling. Manning completed one pass and threw two interceptions. Denver held the ball for 11:01. In the final 12 minutes of the quarter, only three plays started in Denver territory, none further back than the 43-yard line. And because of an Orton interception, two penalties on third and 1 and a missed field goal, the score of the third quarter was 0-0.
“When you play against a football team like that, that’s one of, if not the best team in the league, and you make too many mistakes in critical situations and don’t execute better under pressure than they do, you can’t beat them,” McDaniels said.
Denver cut Indianapolis’ lead to 21-16 on Marshall’s second touchdown, his 20th catch of the game. But Manning led Indianapolis on an 80-yard scoring drive against an injury-depleted Broncos secondary to put the game away.
“We definitely saw today if we play our best ball and eliminate the mistakes, we have a shot to play with the best of them,” Marshall said. “We walk away with our heads high today.”
Contact the writer at 476-4891