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It must have been a helpless feeling. This past Sunday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, AKA “the House that Peyton built”, he paced the sidelines waiting for his chance to take the field again. Peyton Manning was a mere three yards from breaking the all-time passing yardage record for NFL quarterbacks and one win away from eclipsing Brett Favre as the winningest signal caller in the history of the league. All he needed was another shot, another series for his offense, and he could topple both milestones – and not just in any game – and not just in any place.
He could have been the man, keeping his Broncos undefeated while sending the team that released him to a record of 3 and 6. He could have beaten in heroic fashion the young star the Colts brought in to replace him in front of the home fans who were so saddened to see him go. He could have written another chapter in his storied career but instead Peyton Manning was forced just to stand there as the Broncos defense made mistake after mistake, allowing the game clock to tick away to nothing. The Colts didn’t even need to score what seemed like an inevitable field goal to take a six-point lead. Instead they were able to walk off the field winners by three and there was nothing Peyton could do about it.
It was perfect.
Nobody thought that the Broncos were going to go 16-0 on the season. Since they weren’t going to go undefeated anyway the painful loss they suffered in week nine was perhaps the best kind of loss they could have endured. It was as memorable and as crushing a defeat as a Broncos fan could hope for in terms of teaching the swaggering previously-unbeaten Broncos a very valuable lesson.
They lost on the road – and only by three – to a team that had backed itself into a corner. The Colts were desperate. The offensive coordinator had been fired the week before and the national media was abuzz about how far they had fallen. Andrew Luck was being talked about as though he was a potential “bust” and speculation ran rampant that the head coach and even the general manager may be on the chopping block. Beating the Broncos cured a lot of what ailed the Indianapolis Colts but the loss was potentially very good for Denver, too.
Great teams sometimes need the kind of wake up call that the Colts gave the Broncos on Sunday. Denver emerged a little less overconfident yet still well ahead of the AFC fray with a record of 7-1. Assuming they smack the Chiefs at home this coming weekend they’ll be 8-1 heading into Chicago where they should dispatch the Bears before facing the Patriots at home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in a tilt that most fans agree promises to be the Broncos’ most crucial “measuring stick” game of the season.
Everyone assumed that the Broncos would beat the Colts last weekend. Certainly the Broncos assumed that they would. They talked during the week leading up to the game about how many times they would intercept Andrew Luck and generally showed little respect for their opponent. The price they paid was a quick 17-point deficit. Thanks to the loss they are now coping with the Broncos will be less likely to overlook a weaker opponent in the future and more likely to approach tougher opponents with the proper mental mindset.
One thing is for certain. Peyton Manning is not going to let them forget what happened. He didn’t play his best game. His two interceptions didn’t help the Broncos’ odds of winning. But this time the defense let Peyton down late in the game when they have typically been the reason the Broncos have pulled games out. The Colts loss provides every player on the team an opportunity for introspection.