DENVER --- Upon further review, the ruling on the field stands Monday morning. Colts fans may still be pinching themselves all over America, after Indianapolis was the first team to beat the Broncos in Mile High this season 24-13 to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
These were the biggest plays that helped Indianapolis advance:
10. Holding on Aqib Talib Covering T.Y. Hilton on 3rd and Goal in the 2nd Quarter - In a Pro Bowler vs. Pro Bowler match-up, Hilton beat Talib all day. On the previous drive, Hilton had receptions of 20 and 23 yards, with Talib first getting beat with press coverage off the line then playing too far off Hilton at the snap. "He's a great corner and a Pro Bowler," said Hilton of Talib after the game. "I was just the better man today." That set up this crucial penalty on the ensuing drive on 3rd and goal from the 6. It was the first of two defensive holding penalties called on Talib covering Hilton. T.Y. led the team with four receptions for 72 yards, but this play that won't show up in the box score was his biggest. Two play later...
9. Dwayne Allen 2nd Quarter Touchdown - ...Allen made the Broncos pay for that holding penalty on Talib. The 3-yard score gave the Colts their first lead of the game 14-7, after going down 7-0 on the Broncos opening drive. It capped an 8-play 41-yard drive. Andrew Luck was 4-of-6 on the drive for 38 yards. To that point in the game, he was sharp, completing 15-of-20 passes for 135 yards.
"I knew that (Luck) was in the zone before the game," said Allen. "The result of the game just proved it."
8. Colts Defense 4th and 8 4th Quarter Stop - It was desperation time for the Broncos with 3:04 left in the game, down 11 points. Needing 8 yards, Peyton Manning opted to pass it short over the middle to his running back C.J. Anderson. He came close, but LaRon Landry and Ricky Jean Francois stopped him short of the line to gain. Denver would challenge the spot, but to no avail. The ruling on the field was confirmed, and the Colts bench started celebrating a win that was less than 3 minutes of game time away.
7. Vontae Davis Near Interception & Injury Scare - The Colts led 14-7 with 13 seconds left in the first half. The Broncos were 26 yards away from tying the game, a few plays after an Andrew Luck interception. It was 3rd and 8. Manning threw it deep down the left sideline, but as he did all game long, Vontae Davis had Demaryius Thomas covered perfectly, to the point where he had inside position on this play and almost came down with an incredible interception. Davis would have to be helped off the field after tweaking his right knee on the play but came back in the 2nd half to finish with 5 of the Colts seven passes defensed on Manning. What made this play so important? Instead of Denver potentially tying the game at the half, the Broncos settled for a field goal.
6. Boom Herron's 6-Yard Touchdown Run - The Colts offense generated their first points at the end of the first quarter on a drive that bled into the second quarter, with hard running from Boom Herron. His 6-yard score capped a 9-play, 73-yard drive. Boom had 5 of the touches on that drive. Luck was 4-of-4 for 54 yards on the drive, 43 of which went to T.Y. Hilton. It was Herron's 2nd career postseason touchdown, after last week's against Cincinnati. He now has more postseason scores (2) than regular season touchdowns (1), saving his best for when it matters most.
"They definitely gave me some holes to run through," said Herron of the offensive line. "They really did a great job. We were playing against a great front over there – a great defense over there. The guys kept on fighting and kept moving the ball. We got some first downs and were able to put up enough points to win the game."
5. Jonathan Newsome sack-forced fumble of Peyton Manning in the 2nd Quarter - Chirp Chirp. The pride of Ball State and team-leader in sacks in the regular season as a rookie looked to be shot out of a cannon on this play, around the edge and nailing Manning in the back as he knocked the ball out of his hands. The Colts cashed in with Dwayne Allen's touchdown to take the lead.
4. Hakeem Nicks 3rd Quarter Touchdown - The Broncos seemingly had some momentum, after an Andrew Luck interception set up a field goal at the end of the first half for Denver, but the Broncos would go 3-and-out to start the 2nd half to keep the Colts up 14-10. Luck then kept the pressure on Manning on the ensuing drive, with a 15-yard strike to Nicks in the endzone, keeping his eyes down field and stepping up and to his right as the pocket was collapsing. Nicks came down with it, and the Colts went up 21-10, with a statement 11-play, 72-yard drive to start their 3rd quarter.
3. Vontae Davis Diving 4th Quarter Pass Deflection - After a Broncos field goal made it 21-13, the Colts offense went 3-and-out. Mile High was rocking, with Denver within one possession. There was still 13:21 left in the game, when Peyton Manning went back on the field. The first play of that potential game-tying drive got Denver off-track though, as Manning's pass to Emmanuel Sanders was broken up by a diving deflection from Vontae Davis. It was one of his 5 passes defensed in a superb coverage game by the Pro Bowl corner. Davis was also in coverage two plays later when another pass to Sanders went incomplete, forcing a Broncos 3-and-out of their own and setting up the most important drive of the game for the Colts offense.
"The locker room exploded. We were ecstatic," said safety Mike Adams after the game. "It's like getting the monkey off the back. That's what it's like. We played a top-tier quarterback and then we played the best and we won."
2. Adam Vinatieri's 30-yard Field Goal - It was the dagger. That field goal with 4:11 left in the game, made it a two possession game, and put the Colts up 24-13. Most importantly, it capped a 13-play, 54-yard drive that ate up 8:14 of the precious 4th quarter clock, after Indianapolis converted four first downs on the drive. Luck was 3-of-3 on the drive. The other 10 plays were hard running by Boom Herron and Zurlon Tipton.
1. Coby Fleener's 3rd Quarter 32-Yard Reception - It's the play that made Nicks' touchdown at #4 possible. Indianapolis was moving on its first drive of the 2nd half, but an illegal use of hands penalty on Boom Herron made it 2nd and 16 at the Denver 40. An incomplete pass to T.Y. Hilton made it 3rd and 16. Then the pass that blew up social media came, making NFL writers from around the country sing Luck's praises. It was an absolute dime down the middle of the field with multiple defenders around Fleener. The perfectly placed pass was just as good as Fleener's leaping catch in traffic for 32-yards to set up 1st and goal at the 8. It was the most important play of a drive that put the Colts up 2 possessions for the first time in the game. It should also be noted it was another example of the offensive line giving Luck time to throw, having not allowed a single sack in the game.