Return Trip To Denver Ends With The Colts Moving On

Intro: Following their opening-season loss to the Broncos, the Colts had a feeling they would be back in Denver come January. On Sunday, they turned that feeling into a 24-13 Divisional Round victory to advance to the AFC Championship.

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DENVER – The feeling was a sour flavor, one that left a bitter taste to start the 2014 season.

But, it was deeper than just that initial sting.

The Colts knew, walking off the Sports Authority Field at Mile High in their 31-24 season-opening loss, that they would be back.

Losing in Week One didn't mean the Colts would be packing up their lockers the next day.

Lose on Sunday though, and the Colts vacations would start earlier than anyone in that locker room wanted.

"When we came here today and we were on that bus it felt like we were just here yesterday," Ricky Jean Francois said with a grin about as wide as I-465 after the Colts 24-13 win. "Now to leave here, it ain't yesterday. This is a new day.

"It's a special moment to win a game here in Mile High against a quarterback that once upon a time was the top dude in this organization. To beat him in Mile High, that's something special."

When the Colts reflected on that Week One loss to the defending AFC Champions, a bunch of what-ifs filled player's minds.

-What if the Colts hadn't dug themselves such a gigantic hole in the first half?

-What if the team played with the same second-half urgency that nearly brought them all the way back from a three-score deficit?

-What if the Colts had converted turned those trips in Denver territory into points, instead of squandering opportunities against Peyton Manning's Broncos?

On Sunday, the bus ride leaving Mile High and the flight back to Indy had no second guessing.

Instead, it was a jubilant set of trips that has at least one more stop to be made before the final chapter can be written on the 2014 Colts.

"We said a year ago we'd be back in this position," Chuck Pagano said referring to the team's loss in the Divisional Round.

"We talked after the opener this year and losing out here that we were going to find a way to get back."

They got back, thanks to rewriting that ending from Week One.

On Sunday, four red zone trips ended with three Colts touchdowns, an area the team struggled all year long.

Denver's explosive offensive attack could not maintain drives, finishing the afternoon 4-of-16 on third down.

A Vontae Davis-led back end forced the normal precision timing of Manning and his receivers to look like a combination stuck in different time zones.

Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said after the game that this team knew, to see their season extend deeper in January, teams like Denver had to be beaten.

In September, the Colts believed a rematch with Denver was coming.

Last week that belief became true. And Sunday, it turned into another week of work.

"You just play the hand that you're dealt," Reggie Wayne said of coming back to Denver.

"We've had our ups and downs all year. We got dealt a hand and we didn't fold. We just kept playing. It didn't seem like it would be right if we didn't do it this way."

Photos from the divisional round game of the 2014 playoff against the Denver Broncos.

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