By Mark Schiff
History will have to wait until next week.
Three yards short of the all-time mark in passing yards with the ball in his hands, Peyton Manning instead threw his second interception of the game and the defense finally collapsed in the fourth quarter, as the Broncos dropped their first game of the season 27-24 to Manning’s old team, the Indianapolis Colts. The loss dropped Denver to 7-1 on the season, while Manning fell to 1-3 against the Colts, who have now beaten the Broncos twice in 2015.
In a generally lackluster effort, here are your Week 9 team grades.
Denver found some rhythm in the second half, but for much of the game the offense regressed back to the struggling unit we saw prior to last week. The run game was once again non-existent as Ronnie Hillman finished with a measly one yard on seven carries and Denver tallied just 35 yards on the ground. Peyton Manning continued to look erratic – his third quarter bomb to Sanders was a thing of beauty but he also overthrew receivers on big plays and continued to make costly turnovers.
It was also odd that for such a splashy acquisition, new tight end Vernon Davis was featured so little. He was only targeted on one pass and failed to make any impact, while fellow tight end Owen Daniels had his best game of the season with a team-leading 102 yards and a touchdown.
The penalties and mental mistakes the defense has been able to overcome thus far in the season finally came home to roost in Denver’s loss to the Colts. Denver finished with seven defensive penalties and gave the Colts three first downs on their final drive of the game, including Aqib Talib’s inexcusable unnecessary roughness penalty that all but iced the loss.
Denver’s struggles were largely a result of something they’ve otherwise been great at this season: Stops on third down. The Colts went 12-20 on third down, with Andrew Luck often getting the ball off at the last moment against the blitz. As a result of their third down success, the Colts dominated the time of possession 38:39 to 21:21.
Special teams: A
The bright spot of the game was the play of Omar Bolden, who will be in serious consideration for AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. His 83-yard punt return for a touchdown as time expired in the first half was a momentum changer in the game. He also set up the offense with good field position on its final possession and even made open-field tackles on punt coverage. It was a very impressive all-around effort on what’s already been a solid unit.
Manning definitely left some big plays on the field, but the lack of results from the ground game is becoming frustrating. Denver came out passing frequently on first down, but with many of those going for misses, Denver’s predictable run game did little but set up third-and-long. Between the offense’s step back and Wade Phillips’ aggressive blitz schemes often backfiring, it was a rough day for Denver’s coaching staff.
Credit a desperate Colts team for coming up with ways to counter Denver’s defense, but the Broncos didn’t do themselves any favors either. Perhaps the loss will serve as a needed wakeup call about the defense’s weakness for stupid penalties, as well as a lesson for the offense that they can’t keep relying on the D to bail them out.
We’ll see what Denver takes away when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs for the second time next Sunday in Denver.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.