Game recap: Colts fall to the Broncos 34-20 in Denver

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Running back Kapri Bibbs #35 of the Denver Broncos runs for a first down in the second quarter of the game while tackled by free safety Winston Guy #27 of the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 18, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

DENVER – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 34-20 loss to the Broncos Sunday at Denver’s Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High. It’s worth noting the Colts have opened 0-2 for a third straight year. It’s also worth noting that since the current playoff format was put in place in 1990, only 12 percent of the teams that open 0-2 recover and reach the playoffs.

Number’s up: The Colts and Andrew Luck had had the Broncos’ number. Indy had won eight of the last nine in the series. Luck was 3-1 against the Broncos, including a playoff win in Denver.

No longer. In a game that featured the Colts’ resilient nature – they barely had enough defensive players to finish the game – and Luck’s ability to make plays when absolutely necessary, the Broncos held on. Barely, even though the score doesn’t reflect that.

If there was a flashpoint, Denver’s Aqib Talib provided it. With Denver holding a 16-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, he broke on a Luck-to-Phillip Dorsett third-and-15 pass. Talib intercepted it and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown and a 23-13 lead.

Talib’s pick-6 was a quick answer to the Colts’ opening drive of the second half. After being limited to 72 total yards in the first half, Luck directed a 13-play, 79-yard drive to open the third quarter. It was aided by three Denver penalties, kept alive by Luck’s 21-yard scramble on third-and-20 and capped by Robert Turbin’s 6-yard touchdown run.

Luck had yet another answer. With the Colts trailing 23-13, he led a 12-play, 80-yard drive and capped it with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Frank Gore. The veteran running back did the heavy lifting on the TD, shrugging off safety Darian Stewart, tip-toeing the sideline and driving for the pylon to bring the Colts to within 23-20 with 4:02 to play.

Any hopes of Luck and the Colts extending their success at the expense of the Broncos ended when Denver answered Gore’s TD with Brandon McManus’ fourth field goal of the game and a second TD by its defense. Von Miller beat right tackle Joe Reitz on a speed rush and forced a fumble on a sack of Luck. Shane Ray returned it 15 yards for a touchdown and a 34-20 Broncos lead.

Luck struggles: A week ago, Luck pierced Detroit with 385 yards, four touchdowns and nothing even close to an interception. It might have been one of the cleanest games of his career.

Sunday, not so much. As we mentioned, he suffered his first two turnovers of the season and each was costly. Talib returned the interception for a touchdown and Ray the fumble for a TD.

Facing a stiff pass rush – five sacks and a ton of pressure – Luck completed 21-of-40 passes for 197 yards with the TD to Gore and the killer pick-6. Miller accounted for three sacks after having none against Luck in the previous four games.

Luck did help his own cause with his legs, picking up 22 yards on three carries.

Enough D?: It’s hard to pile on the defense. Yes, it gave up 400 total yards and 24 first downs, but let’s look at the bottom line. It limited the Broncos to one touchdown and four McManus field goals.

And as we all know, the defense was short-handed coming in and worse than that coming out. Read on.

Medical matters: This is how bad it’s gotten for the Colts. Cornerback Darius Butler stepped in front of a Trevor Siemian pass to Emmanuel Sanders, intercepted it and headed upfield for a certain pick-6. But after a few strides, Butler pulled up lame and grabbed his right hamstring.

Yes, it was that bad.

Already without five front-line players, the Colts not lost only Butler but a slew of other players. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was in and out of the lineup with rib and shoulder issues and safety Clayton Geathers, making his first appearance of the season, exited in the second quarter with a foot/ankle injury. He had practiced twice since mid-June after breaking a bone in his right foot in late July.

Also, wide receiver Donte Moncrief suffered a concussion in the first quarter and did not return. In the third quarter, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who made his first start since 2014, went to the locker room with cramping issues.

And to recap, the Colts entered the game without starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis (ankle) and Patrick Robinson (concussion), defensive end Henry Anderson (knee), linebacker Trent Cole (back) and rookie safety T.J. Green (knee).

In the fourth quarter, right guard Denzelle Good went out with a back injury. He was replaced by Jon Harrison.

Movin’ on up: Gore continued to plow his way up the NFL’s all-time rushing charts. He rushed 13 times for 44 yards against the Broncos, pushing his career total to 12,143 yards. That moved him into the No. 13 slot, ahead of Franco Harris.

This and that: Pat McAfee’s 72-yard punt in the first quarter was a career best. . . . Placekicker Adam Vinatieri extended his streak of successful field goals to 29 straight by knocking down 48- and 52-yard attempts.

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