Like dental work, car repairs, or the holidays, the Broncos’ first loss of 2013 was both inevitable and a relief to get out of the way.
There’s no shame in losing on the road to a good team, and Sunday’s game in Indianapolis had even more extraneous noise than the usual media circus Peyton Manning brings to every destination. His longtime franchise honored him before the game with a video tribute and a subsequent prolonged and enthusiastic ovation that clearly moved the former Colt.
Unfortunately, the flattering but unwelcome distraction also probably set the tone for the sloppy and disjointed performance Manning and his teammates delivered. Although Manning threw for almost 400 yards and the Broncos scored 33 points, they never seemed quite right. The Colts defense simply lived in the Broncos’ backfield all night, knocking down the QB more times (10) in four quarters than Denver’s previous six opponents had done collectively. The running game went nowhere, and the Broncos’ two-headed fumble monster (Trindon Holliday and Ronnie Hillman) did what they do and coughed up two huge turnovers.
Let’s be honest: No one in NFL is running the table anymore. (The last team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl was the 1972 Miami Dolphins.) There simply are too many wild cards—primarily in the form of injuries—that can derail a team’s fortunes. The bug is beginning to bite the Broncos, and how they weather it during the second half will determine their playoff prospects.
The team’s offensive line has been decimated; Champ Bailey seemed to re-injure the foot that’s kept him out for most of the season (and has made him look every bit his advanced age when he’s been active), and linebacker Wesley Woodyard sat out as well. The team did welcome Von Miller back from a six-game suspension, but the Colts mostly contained him.
That defense, frankly, is a wreck. The unit is giving up the third-most yards and sixth-most points per game. The numbers are a bit skewed because before Sunday, Broncos’ opponents have been forced to throw the ball more than they normally would. Even so, needing to score 35 points per game to win becomes progressively more difficult as the weather cools and the injuries mount.
Winter’s imminence might also chill our favorite QB. On Sunday, Manning’s passes floated and fluttered so much that even if the team had secured its onside kick in the waning seconds, it’s doubtful he could’ve mustered the mustard he needed to get the ball into the end zone on a Hail Mary. That Manning still put up such tremendous statistics is testament to his otherworldly precision, but as the season wears on and the temperatures dip, his primary weakness could become even more vulnerable and cast a chill over this magical season.
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Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.