By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Fans who came to remember the past Sunday night in Indianapolis instead got a good look at the future.
Andrew Luck outdueled Peyton Manning in a showdown for the ages, and the Indianapols Colts proved they’re back as NFL contenders with a 39-33 victory against the Denver Broncos.
Luck threw for three touchdowns and ran for one.
Meanwhile, Manning and the Broncos offense struggled through most of the game, as the Colts played physical man-to-man defense against the Broncos receivers and also put intense pressure on Manning when he dropped he dropped back to pass. Denver did much of its damage in the fourth quarter, nearly erasing a 19-point deficit.
Luck’s 10-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the third quarter breathed new life into the home crowd and put the Colts ahead by three scores.
Manning answered with a 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive capped by a 31-yard field goal by Matt Prater to cut the deficit to 33-17 heading into the final period.
The mini-flurry came after 10 minutes of scoreless play caused the first real lull of the night. But nobody was complaining.
The first half more than lived up to the hype, with Luck outplaying Manning as the Colts surged to a 26-14 lead.
The former Stanford star got some help from a pair of key turnovers and a big hit by punter Pat McAfee to recover from a slow start.
Denver punt returner Trindon Holliday fumbled at his own 11-yard line after a hit by fullback Stanley Havili with the Broncos leading 7-3 late in the first quarter. Holliday was initially ruled out of bounds on the play after Colts safety Sergio Brown recovered the loose ball and ran it into the end zone.
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano challenged the call, and it was overturned upon review. On the next play, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton called a fake end-around that resulted in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey and the Colts had their first lead.
McAfee saved a touchdown on the kick return with a vicious hit against Holliday on the sideline, but Manning capped an eight-play, 51-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the Broncos back in front at the start of the second quarter.
After a failed Indianapolis drive, Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis struck for one of the biggest plays of the game. His blindside hit on Manning forced a fumble that resulted in a safety to cut Indianapolis’ deficit to 14-12.
On the ensuing drive, Luck marched 66 yards on seven plays — capping the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Havili — and the Colts had the lead again.
Luck extended the advantage with a trick straight out of Manning’s arsenal, the two-minute drill. Driving 50 yards on just six plays, the second-year star needed just 1:25 to get Indianapolis back into the end zone. His 8-yard touchdown pass to college teammate Coby Fleener capped the series and sent up one of the loudest ovations of the night.