DENVER (AP) Everyone pretty much figured Peyton Manning would have his way with an Indianapolis defense that got carved up earlier this season by Ben Roethlisberger.
All the Colts really wanted to do was throw Manning a little bit off rhythm, enough to get Andrew Luck on the field with a chance to do his thing.
They did that and plenty more.
Starting with a sack and forced fumble of Manning that led to the go-ahead touchdown, the Colts baffled the Denver quarterback during a 24-13 win Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game.
Now, Indy’s headed to New England to face the Patriots with a chance to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Manning led them there after the 2009 season.
The turning point of the game was early in the second quarter when Jonathan Newsome stripped Manning of the football and Jerrell Freeman recovered it at the Denver 41.
A few plays later, Luck hit tight end Dwayne Allen on a short TD pass to put Indy up 14-7 – a lead the defense protected the rest of the way.
”Once we got into Manning’s head – that was the biggest thing,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. ”You never know Peyton to overthrow guys. He usually puts the ball right on the number and when he kept overthrowing it, we knew we had him.”
It’s one thing to hold down Andy Dalton, which the Colts (13-5) did last week. But this was Manning, a five-time NFL MVP who frequently dominates defensive game plans.
Instead of merely holding Manning in check, they kept him at bay. Manning threw for a pedestrian 211 yards – 59 of which were in the final 1:52 and the game all but out of reach.
So maybe the Colts aren’t just all about Luck, after all.
”We want some of that glory, too. Show us some love,” safety Mike Adams said, smiling. ”Look, we know Luck is going to do his thing. We know he’s going to go out there and ball out.
”As a defense, we want our own identity. We want to go out there and represent. We want to go out there and do our thing.”
What the Colts did was confuse Manning by showing one look and backing off into another version. They constantly had pressure on him as well, sacking him twice and making him unsettled in the pocket.
Indy owner Jim Irsay was just as impressed with his defense’s intensity as the work turned in by Luck, who made it possible to release Manning in 2012.
”Coming in here, on their home turf, it was an incredible victory for the franchise,” Irsay said.
Made possible by constantly bothering Manning.
”We got some pressure on him,” Freeman said. ”We were able to capitalize on third-and-longs and get off the field when we had the opportunity.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Indy’s defense this season. It’s been a little maligned at times, especially after Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six TDs in a 51-34 win on Oct. 26.
”In the playoffs, everybody has to step their game up. Everybody,” Adams said. ”We all have to play lights out to win, to beat Peyton.”
Manning tried everything to get his team on track, even throwing long several times. But Indy’s secondary didn’t blink, making it difficult for Manning to locate Demaryius Thomas (five catches, 59 yards, one score) and Emmanuel Sanders (seven catches, 46 yards).
”Didn’t play well enough,” Manning said. ”Their defense played well and their defense forced us into some bad execution. I thought we had some chances as well and I thought I could’ve played better.”
Next up for the Colts is Tom Brady, who threw for 257 yards and two scores in a 42-20 victory on Nov. 16.
”We know we have to step our game up even more with Tom Brady,” Adams said.
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