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Lots of Luck: Colts prevail in Manning's return
INDIANAPOLIS -- No matter how much he wanted to make it just another game, Andrew Luck couldn't deny there was something different about his matchup with Peyton Manning.
Manning won four MVP awards and a Super Bowl title in 13 years in Indianapolis before the Colts allowed him to become a free agent. The move cleared the way for the Colts to select Luck with the first pick of the 2012 draft, while Manning received a fresh start with the Denver Broncos.
In the first meeting between the two, Luck passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Colts beat the Broncos 39-33 Sunday night.
The Colts paid tribute to Manning before the game, and the fans greeted him warmly. A capacity crowd, mostly clad in Colts blue but noticeably dotted with orange Manning jerseys, remained at a fever pitch for much of the game. Many Indianapolis fans dusted off their old No. 18 Colts jerseys.
"What a setting," Luck said. "It was rocking. The energy -- you could taste it almost. It was a very special environment to play in."
Manning acknowledged it was a tough week.
"If there is a next time, it may be a little bit easier," he said. "It was somewhat of an emotional week, and it can be a little bit draining, I will say that."
The Broncos (6-1) saw their 17-game regular-season winning streak snapped. With a victory Sunday, they would have tied the 2003-04 New England Patriots for the third-longest regular-season win streak in NFL history. Instead, Denver's loss left the Kansas City Chiefs (7-0) as the league's only unbeaten team.
Manning passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns, completing 29 of 39 passes. He was intercepted once. Denver's Eric Decker had eight catches for 150 yards and a score.
Luck went 21-for-38 for 228 yards and ran four times for 29 yards for the Colts (5-2).
The Broncos lost despite outgaining the Colts 429 yards to 334. Denver turned the ball over three times, while Indianapolis only gave it away once.
Manning nearly engineered one of his famous fourth-quarter rallies. His 31-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 12:11 left cut the Colts' lead to 36-23. The two-point conversion pass failed when Thomas dropped a high pass near the back of the end zone.
The Broncos then caught a break when Duke Ihenacho stripped Indy's Trent Richardson and recovered the ball at the Colts 23-yard line. Manning found Welker for 2 yards on a fourth-and-1, and four plays later, Knowshon Moreno's 1-yard touchdown run trimmed the Colts' lead to 36-30 with 8:44 to play.
The Colts went three-and-out, and Manning had a chance to put the Broncos ahead. Instead, his first pass was intercepted by Pat Angerer, and the Colts took over at Denver's 20. Adam Vinatieri's 42-yard field goal gave the Colts a 39-30 lead with 5:57 to play.
The Broncos drove from their 15 to the Colts' 3-yard line, but Ronnie Hillman fumbled and Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea recovered.
Denver's Matt Prater made a 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to make it 39-33, but the Broncos were unsuccessful on their onside kick, and the Colts ran out the clock.
Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne caught five passes for 50 yards, but he left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained right knee and did not return.
The Colts led by 12 at halftime, and Denver opened the second half with three three-and-outs. Luck's 10-yard touchdown run gave Indianapolis a 33-14 lead.
Prater hit a 31-yard field goal late in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 33-17.
Vinatieri tacked on a 52-yard field goal two minutes into the fourth quarter to push the Colts' lead back to 19 points.
The Colts scored the final 16 points of the half to take a 26-14 lead into the locker room.
The rally began when Robert Mathis hit Manning hard from behind near the goal line. The ball went out of bounds for a safety, cutting Denver's lead to 14-12 with 8:52 to go in the second quarter.
"It was a good hit," Manning said. "A healthy one, as I would call it."
Following the free kick, Luck drove Indianapolis 66 yards in seven plays for a score. He found Stanley Havili out of the backfield for a 20-yard touchdown, and the Colts grabbed a 19-14 lead.
The Colts stopped the Broncos again, and Luck ran an excellent two-minute drill. He connected with Coby Fleener in the flat for an 8-yard touchdown that gave Indianapolis a 26-14 lead with 10 seconds left in the first half.
Manning said the Broncos will be better after they review their mistakes.
"I think we can learn from it," Manning said. "We certainly have to improve from this game because we weren't as sharp execution-wise as we'd like to be."
NOTES: Broncos CB Champ Bailey left the game with a foot injury. ... Colts LB Bjoern Werner sat out with a foot injury. Denver RT Orlando Franklin was sidelined due to an ankle injury, and Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard was out with a neck injury. ... Broncos WR Wes Welker's franchise-record-tying streak of six consecutive games with a touchdown reception ended. He finished with seven catches for 96 yards. ... Luck still has not lost back-to-back games as a pro. The Colts fell 19-9 to the Chargers last Monday in San Diego.