DENVER --- Andrew Luck completed a career-high 35 passes and notched his 10th 300-plus yard passing game with 370 yards, but the Indianapolis Colts quarterback's late rally fell one drive short, in Sunday night's 31-24 season-opening loss to the Broncos.
Trailing 24-0 in the 2nd quarter, Luck and the Colts outscored the Broncos 24-7 the rest of the way, setting up a potential game-tying drive with two minutes to go in the game. A 4th and 6 pass to Reggie Wayne was broken up though on the opposite side of the two minute warning to seal it.
For Luck, much of this game came down to missed opportunities. That started with the first drive of the game, one that stalled in Broncos territory with an incomplete pass on 3rd and 1.
"In those early ones especially, not taking advantage of those, we put our defense in a really tough position," said Luck after the game. "We must have played what seems like 90 snaps in that first half, and that's as much of the offense's fault as anything, for not putting some drives together and getting something out of it. A lot of mistakes were made, especially those early ones, not taking advantage of those third downs and getting points. It's tough."
The Colts first four possessions resulted in three punts and an interception. That led to 40 Broncos plays on their first four drives and 24 points.
Nevertheless, Luck mounted another one of his patented rallies, scoring on a 9-yard run with 19 seconds left in the 1st half, where he somehow stayed airborne just long enough over the sideline to reach the ball to the pylon. That made it a 24-7 game at halftime.
In the 2nd half, the Colts first offensive drive would come up empty in the redzone. Hakeem Nicks was turned away on a catch near the goal line on 3rd and goal. Luck rushed to the line of scrimmage on 4th and goal from the 1. Denver's defense was ready and stifled a quarterback sneak attempt.
""I was trying to QB sneak it in, and it didn't work," said Luck. "I didn't get in, so it was my fault."
But Luck and the offense kept throwing punches. The word best used to describe the fierce attempt in the locker room after the game was "grit". The defense kept holding Peyton Manning, to the tune of just 60 2nd half passing yards.
Despite being down 21 points with 9:54 left in the game, Luck kept punching. A 41-yard catch and run to tight end Dwayne Allen made it a two possession game with 7:46 left. Luck would then hit Hakeem Nicks from nine yards out to make it a seven point game with 3:26 left on the clock. Those who had turned off the TV early on Sunday night (averaged a 43.5 TV rating in the first half but only 38.4 for the entire game) would regret it Monday morning.
Another stop by the defense, and Luck had the drive he had been grinding for, one that could tie the game. It fell short, but the 2nd half effort was another sign of good things to come for the third year quarterback.
"I think we did manage to take advantage of some opportunities in that second half that we didn't in the first. It was good to get that two-minute drive right at the end of the half to get points; to find a little bit more of a rhythm I guess," said Luck, when asked about the difference between the two halves. "I really don't have an answer. We just seemed to make more plays."
Luck also praised his offensive line, one that had rookie Jack Mewhort playing his first professional game at left guard and A.Q. Shipley starting at center one week after he was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens.
"I think our guys did a great job. I have a lot of respect for not only (Broncos defensive end) DeMarcus Ware and (linebacker) Von Miller, but everybody that's up there. It's a good front seven," Luck said about Denver's pass rush. "I thought our guys did a heck of a job. I really do."
"If you go on the road against a quality team, quality defense, quality offense, quality special teams and you don't take advantage of early opportunities, we probably don't deserve to have a chance to win at the end of the game," Luck said, but the Colts did have a chance to get it to overtime. "I do commend the guys' fighting spirit."
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw agreed. "My hat goes off to these guys for never quitting, and we fought a good Denver Broncos team," said Bradshaw. "I'd ride or die with these guys any time."
Ultimately, that will be what many will take away from both the Colts' quarterback and his team after Sunday night, despite a first half where some around the country decided it was over at halftime and turned off their televisions.
But it's never over with Andrew Luck.