INDIANAPOLIS --Andrew Luck joined forces with the Colts' defense and special teams units Sunday night to hold off the Denver Broncos, 39-33, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck, quarterback of the Colts' present and future, generated big plays early and often and passed for 228 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-38. He also scrambled four times for 29 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Colts breathing room just before the Broncos began a rally for 19 points in the final 16 minutes.
But Luck needed help -- and got it. Indy's defense produced a strip-sack for a safety and an interception that led to a field goal. The punt coverage unit recovered a fumble that led to a touchdown pass by Luck.
Offense, defense and special teams. As Luck said afterward, the Colts required "all three phases of football to get this win."
Coach Chuck Pagano put it simply, calling his Indy club "the grittiest football team I've been around in my life."
The Colts displayed that grit by staving off the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning, who produced countless masterful moments over 14 years in Indianapolis. Manning, in his second season with the Denver offense, completed 29-of-49 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
A Manning-led charge by the Broncos pulled them within 36-30 with 8:44 left. The Colts were forced to punt on their next possession, and Denver took over at its own 15-yard line.
Shortly thereafter, Erik Walden's hit on Manning's arm deflected a pass into the hands of linebacker Pat Angerer. That led to Adam Vinatieri's 42-yard field goal with 5:57 left, extending Indy's edge to 39-30. That meant breathing room again -- a two-score margin.
On Denver's next possession, another Walden hit forced a fumble by Ronnie Hillman after the Broncos had advanced to the Colts' 2-yard line. Indy safety Antoine Bethea recovered with 3:03 left.
"We made just enough big plays to get out with the win," Pagano said.
Midway through the second quarter, Colts linebacker Robert Mathis sacked Manning deep in Denver territory, forcing a fumble for a safety. The Colts got the ball back after Denver's ensuing kick and used a seven-play, 66-yard drive to pad their lead to 19-14.
"That was huge," Pagano said about Mathis' defensive play that effectively translated into nine points. "A big turning point."
Luck echoed Pagano's statement. "It was a huge moment in the game for us to get back on track," the Colts quarterback said.
The big special teams play came late in the first quarter when Indy's Stanley Havili created a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by teammate Sergio Brown. One play later, Luck hit Darrius Heyward-Bey with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Havili enjoyed a productive night, also scoring a touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Luck.
"He's an incredible all-around football player," Luck said about Havili. "He does everything. It's fun to watch."
As for Manning's night, it started with the sellout crowd watching with rapt attention as a pregame video tribute to the former Colts quarterback ran on the two big screens at Lucas Oil Stadium. The fans roared their appreciation.
"There is no question," Manning said after the game, "it was emotional during that tribute. I thought I came back pretty quickly. I was ready to play for kickoff."
The Broncos lost for the first time in seven games this season and ended a 17-game winning streak overall. The Colts lifted their mark to 5-2.
FIRST QUARTER (8:16 remaining)
Peyton Manning put the Broncos on the scoreboard first -- and did so in quick fashion. On the visitors' second possession, which started at the Denver 44, Manning threw twice to Eric Decker. The first went for 39 yards and the second for 17 and the touchdown. Elapsed time of the drive: 46 seconds. Matt Prater booted the extra point.Broncos 7, Colts 0.
FIRST QUARTER (4:05 remaining)
Andrew Luck marched the Colts down the field, completing 4-of-7 passes for 67 yards. When Luck suffered a third-down sack and the drive stalled, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 27-yard field goal.Broncos 7, Colts 3.
FIRST QUARTER (1:20 remaining)
Special teams provided the impetus for the Colts' first lead. When Denver's Trindon Holliday was returning a Pat McAfee punt, he was hit and stripped of the ball by Indy's Stanley Havili. The Colts' Sergio Brown recovered. Holliday was first ruled out of bounds before the fumble, but Colts Coach Chuck Pagano challenged, and replay showed the fumble to be in bounds. The Colts got the ball back, and Luck needed only one play for the touchdown, throwing 11 yards to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Vinatieri kicked the extra point. Colts 10, Broncos 7.
SECOND QUARTER (11:56 remaining)
A 56-yard kickoff return by Holliday gave Denver the ball at its own 49. Manning went to work, completing five passes for 36 yards. The last one went 12 yards to Julius Thomas for the score. Prater kicked the extra point.Broncos 14, Colts 10.
SECOND QUARTER (8:52 remaining)
This time, the Colts' defense made the big play. Robert Mathis slammed into Manning for a sack and strip. Indy's Erik Walden appeared to recover but didn't secure possession before sliding out of bounds in the end zone. The Colts were awarded two points for a safety.Broncos 14, Colts 12.
SECOND QUARTER (5:50 remaining)
Luck's fine play with both his arm and his legs pushed the Colts ahead again. Luck passed to Donald Brown for 28 yards to open the march. The quarterback scrambled for 11 yards and a first down on a third-and-11 situation. He passed 20 yards to Havili for the touchdown. Vinatieri added the extra point.Colts 19, Broncos 14.
SECOND QUARTER (10 seconds remaining)
Luck hit 6-of-6 passes for 50 yards and another touchdown, accounting for all the yardage on this scoring drive. His touchdown toss went eight yards to his old Stanford teammate, Coby Fleener. Vinatieri kicked the extra point.Colts 26, Broncos 14.
THIRD QUARTER (5:00 remaining)
More Luck magic extended the Colts' lead. The Colts took over at Denver's 41 after a punt. Luck hit a pair of passes for a total 15 yards, and got some help from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Broncos. On second down from the 10, Luck scrambled to his right for the touchdown. Vinatieri added the extra point. Colts 33, Broncos 14.
THIRD QUARTER (42 seconds remaining)
The Broncos had a first down at the Colts' 6 but had to settle for a field goal when their drive sputtered. Two penalties and a couple of incomplete passes by Manning hurt the Denver cause. Prater booted a 31-yard field goal. Colts 33, Broncos 17.
FOURTH QUARTER (12:59 remaining)
The big play was a 30-yard run by Heyward-Bey on an end-around play. It helped to set up a 52-yard field goal by Vinatieri, pushing the Colts' lead to 19 points.Colts 36, Broncos 17.
FOURTH QUARTER (12:11 remaining)
Manning and the Broncos came back for a touchdown as the Denver quarterback hit passes of 49 yards to Decker and 31 yards to Demaryius Thomas for the score. The Broncos went for a two-point conversion, but Manning's pass fell incomplete. Colts 36, Broncos 23.
FOURTH QUARTER (8:44 remaining)
A fumble by Indy's Trent Richardson and recovery by Denver's Duke Ihenacho gave the Broncos possession at the Colts' 23. Eight plays later, Denver's Knowshon Moreno burst in for a one-yard touchdown. Prater added the extra point.Colts 36, Broncos 30.
FOURTH QUARTER (5:57 remaining)
The Colts' defense rose to the occasion again. Erik Walden hit Manning's arm as he tried to pass and the ball deflected into the hands of linebacker Pat Angerer. The Colts' offense took over and struggled to move the ball, so Vinatieri booted a 42-yard field goal.Colts 39, Broncos 30.
FOURTH QUARTER (12 seconds remaining)
Denver's offense failed to sustain a drive after receiving a Colts punt. Prater booted a 47-yard field goal. Colts 39, Broncos 33.