The Denver Broncos suffered their first loss of the season, as they lost 39-33 on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. The return of Peyton Manning to Indianapolis did not go very well for the Broncos. This game was marred by injuries, penalties, turnovers and inconsistencies.
When the game was over Manning talked about how exhausting this week was for him. “I felt probably a little tired coming into this week. I’m kind of in some ways somewhat relieved this game is over.”
The Broncos entered the game without right tackle Orlando Franklin as he continues to deal with the ankle injury he suffered in Week 6 against the Jaguars. Denver moved Louis Vasquez outside to right tackle, with Chris Kuper taking his spot inside at right guard. The shuffled offensive line had trouble protecting Manning on Sunday night.
After the game, Manning commented on the different combination on the offensive line. “Injuries are a part of it,” Manning said. “You have to be able to overcome those things. Certainly we had some guys playing in some different spots tonight. That’s never easy, playing on the road in a loud stadium against a good pass rush. But, we’ll learn from it and try to be better the next time.”
Manning was seemingly under constant pressure from the Colts. Left tackle Chris Clark had trouble slowing down Robert Mathis, and the Colts’ premiere pass-rusher finished with two sacks. Mathis also caused a safety as he knocked the ball out of Manning’s hands and out of the back of the end zone in the second quarter.
When passing the football Manning’s arm looked a little off. Several of his passes fluttered more than usual, but after the game Manning only joked about those throws. "I throw a lot of wobbly passes," he said. "I throw a lot of wobbly touchdowns, too."
Even though his spirals weren’t crisp, Manning still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday night’s performance marked his 78th career game with 300 yards passing as well as his 300th game with three touchdown passes.
The Broncos ground game didn’t get on track against the Colts. Starter Knowshon Moreno finished the game with 15 carries for 40 yards and one rushing touchdown. He started the game running hot, but the team couldn’t sustain drives against Indianapolis. This meant fewer opportunities for Moreno.
Ronnie Hillman once again served as the change-of-pace back behind Moreno. He was running with great burst, and finished the game with four carries for 25 yards. However, his late fourth-quarter fumble at the Colts 3-yard line was incredibly costly and helped seal the victory for the Colts.
Eric Decker had a career-high 150 yards receiving against the Colts. His 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter was the 25th of his career, tying him with WR Brandon Marshall for the most receiving scores in Broncos history through a player’s first four seasons.
Wes Welker didn’t score a touchdown for the first time in his Broncos career. However, his seven catches for 96 yards were critical and helped get the offense back on track in the second half.
Demaryius Thomas was part of the Broncos' resurgent second-half offense as well. He scored his first receiving touchdown since Week 4 with a 31-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
Tight End Julius Thomas scored again this week. His eight receiving touchdowns tie Welker for the most in the NFL so far this season.
Defensively the Broncos had trouble with tackling, focus and discipline. As a team, the Broncos were penalized 12 times for 103 yards. Many of those penalties came against the defense.
The Colts offense didn’t go wild, only racking up 334 total yards compared to the Broncos’ 429 total yards. However, the Colts did move the ball consistently and used several different receivers to pick on the Denver defense.
Andrew Luck handled the pressure with ease, keeping his eyes downfield while extending the play with his feet. He threw three touchdowns to three different receivers and generally had his way with the Broncos defense.
Even the Broncos special teams struggled on Sunday night. Returner Trindon Holliday fumbled twice against the Colts, losing one deep in Broncos territory. That fumble became a touchdown for the Colts, and it gave them a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.
This was an absolute collapse by the Broncos in all three phases of the game. It’s a disappointing loss, and one the team will learn from.
Manning talked about learning from this loss after the game. “This is a game that we need to learn from. We had four turnovers and still somehow had a chance to win that game. I’d like to have seen it go to a two-point game down there toward the end and seen what would have happened. Never quite got to that point, but you can go back to different parts of the game—we got behind and (there were) mistakes there but we still had a chance there at the end. We did fight and hung in there. We can learn from it. We certainly have to improve from this game because we weren’t as sharp execution-wise as we’d like.”
Entering this game the Broncos had played with a lead 72 percent of the time. It was a different look this week as they attempted to come from behind against Indianapolis.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Colts.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning: B+
Facing his old team, Manning put on a show for the fans in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium. His nerves seemed to get the best of him early, and several of his passes were off the mark.
Manning did get the offense jump-started in the second half, but by that time it was too late. His passes were wobbly, and Manning struggled to get away from the Colts pass rush.
After the game Manning talked about the team's lack of rhythm offensively.
“I thought they played excellent on defense. I think our execution was not as good as we would like it to be. That second drive was good, had a couple of big plays, had two 3rd-and-1s and two first-down plays that were really good and two out of those first three drives had two 3rd-and-1s and got stopped and then hit a little bit of a rut there. There were some 3-and-outs so give their defense a lot of credit and then our execution just wasn’t as sharp. First down, second down, third down we could not find much of a rhythm.”
Knowshon Moreno: A
Moreno started the game against the Colts with a few big runs. He was running hot to start the game but cooled off as the offense couldn't sustain drives.
He scored another rushing touchdown in this game, his eighth of the season. This mark is tops in the NFL after seven weeks.
Moreno also chipped in with three catches for nine yards.
Ronnie Hillman: D
Hillman continues to serve as the change-of-pace running back behind Moreno. He averaged a healthy 6.3 yards per carry against the Colts, but a fourth-quarter fumble proved costly for this report card.
He's likely to see his role decline with these ball security issues. It's the second week in a row that Hillman has fumbled. This follows a preseason that saw him fumble three times (losing two).
It will take a lot for Hillman to get back into the good graces of the coaching staff, and may lose out on playing time to either Montee Ball or C.J. Anderson.
Montee Ball: C
The rookie just isn't getting much playing time. He failed to receive any carries or receptions against the Colts. Ball did get one tackle on special teams in Week 7. With Hillman's fumbling problems we could see Ball's role increase with the team.
Demaryius Thomas: B
Thomas was shut down by cornerback Vonta Davis for most of the game. He did get on track in the second half, and Thomas finished the game with four catches for 82 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Manning had trouble getting Thomas the ball for most of the game, with five of his nine targets hitting the ground incomplete.
Wes Welker: A
Welker is a key piece to the Broncos passing game. He was matched up against former Patriots teammate Darius Butler for this contest. Butler played inside press coverage against Welker, which caused Manning fits.
Welker was not able to get wide open against Butler but still managed to haul in seven catches for 96 yards.
After the game Welker talked about the increase in man coverage the team saw against the Colts.
“Yeah, they played a lot of man-to-man coverage. That’s what they do and that’s the type of team they are and they did a good job with it. We’ve got to take advantage of that and make them pay when they do that.”
Eric Decker: A
It was a career night for Decker, as his 150 yards receiving was the best single-game mark in his career. His 17-yard touchdown catch opened up the scoring for the Broncos in the first quarter.
Decker was making difficult catches against the Colts, and he was paying the price for being such a valuable target. The Colts tried to hit him hard to separate the ball after the catch, but Decker did a good job of holding onto the rock.
He even lost his helmet after one big catch in the first half. His toughness and reliability are what make him a favorite target of Manning.
Andre Caldwell: D
Caldwell gets a lower grade because of a holding penalty he received on a punt return. This negated a 17-yard return by Trindon Holliday and put the ball on the Broncos 6-yard line. Three plays later Manning lost a fumble out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Julius Thomas: B-
Thomas caught another touchdown pass in Week 7, bringing his season total to eight. This number ties Wes Welker for the most receiving touchdowns in 2013 so far.
His impact was felt early in this game, but that did not resonate throughout the game. After the loss Thomas commented on why the Broncos didn't go to the middle of the field more often.
"They were able to do some good things defensively mixing up coverages. I think they kind of kept us off balance a little bit. We weren’t able to get in a rhythm for a while. I can’t say why we didn’t use the middle of the field or why we didn’t use the outside. Like you said, we had six 3-and-outs. That’s not us, that’s not our identity and we need to clean it up.”
Thomas would have received a higher grade had it not been for a missed block. He allowed Colts linebacker Erik Walden to hit Manning's hand as the quarterback was releasing the ball. This led to an interception by Pat Angerer, and ultimately three more points to give the Colts a 39-30 advantage.
Virgil Green: C-
Green continues to be a primary blocker for the Broncos. They probably should have used him more against the Colts, as the team struggled to stop the pass rush.
His grade would have been higher had it not been for an unnecessary roughness penalty on a punt. That penalty moved the ball into Broncos territory.
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme was able to haul in one catch against his former team. It was his lone target of the day and went for seven yards.
Joel Dreessen: C
Dreessen received a few snaps behind Green as a blocking tight end. Like Green, they perhaps should have used him more to help protect Manning better.
Chris Clark: D
This was the first week the Broncos really missed Ryan Clady. Since Week 3 we've seen Clark do a good job in holding off an opponent's best pass-rusher. Against the Colts he couldn't stop Robert Mathis, and that's why his grade is the lowest of the year.
Zane Beadles: C+
Beadles was the best of the bad offensive line play on Sunday night. He held his own against the Colts interior rushers, and did a good job of moving his feet to maintain balance.
Manny Ramirez: C-
Ramirez struggled to hold his ground against the Colts. Middle pressure is something Manning can't escape. Ramirez has played well this season as the starter but failed to impress on Sunday night.
Chris Kuper: C
I was expecting Kuper to play better. Instead, we saw him get pushed around a few times against the Colts defensive line.
Louis Vasquez: C
Vasquez had big shoes to fill this week as he was replacing Orlando Franklin in the starting lineup. He did a good job against Mathis to start the game.
That forced the Colts to move Mathis over to play against Clark on the left side. Clark did not have the same success Vasquez did against Mathis.
Derek Wolfe: C-
Wolfe did not make a big dent in the box score. However, he was able to get some edge pressure against Andrew Luck and recorded one quarterback hit. That earns him an average grade in Week 7.
Malik Jackson: B
Jackson continues to impress with limited playing time. He finished the game with three tackles, one pass defensed and one quarterback hit.
He did a good job hand fighting against the Colts offensive line. Jackson's game isn't flashy, but he is effective due to his heart and tenacity.
Robert Ayers: C-
Ayers returned to the field this week. He missed the game against the Jaguars in Week 6 because of a neck injury.
Ayers missed a read badly that led to a touchdown by the Colts. With fullback Stanley Havili lined up outside the tight end, Ayers failed to recognize a play the Colts like to use.
Havili ran by Ayers untouched, caught a pass in the flat and scampered in for an easy 20-yard touchdown. This was a play the Broncos should have seen coming.
Kevin Vickerson: C-
Vickerson looked like he was going to get a fantastic grade to start this game. He began this contest by stuffing a couple of 3rd-and-1 plays.
However, in the second half his game fell apart. Two penalties lower his grade. First, an unsportsmanlike conduct on an extra point. Then, a roughing the passer penalty on an unnecessary bump of Andrew Luck.
Terrance Knighton: C-
Like Vickerson, Knighton had a good start to the game but fell apart late. Knighton was able to get middle pressure on Luck and forced a bad throw on a 3rd-and-goal play. He did a good job of stuffing the run for most of the game.
A second half unsportsmanlike penalty lowers his grade for Week 7.
Mitch Unrein: C
Unrein only had one tackle as a reserve player against the Colts.
Sylvester Williams: C
Williams had a better day against the Colts. He finished the game with two tackles and did a good job bringing down Trent Richardson.
Von Miller: B-
This was the first game of the season for Miller. He returned from his six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and many felt Miller would have considerable rust to shake off.
Miller did not record a sack, but did get two quarterback hits in the box score. He finished the game with one tackle for a loss, and two tackles overall.
Miller talked about his performance after the game.
“I felt great. I felt physically and mentally ready to go. The Colts have a great offense. The offensive line blocked well. Andrew Luck is a great player. He was able to shake out some situations and make plays for his team. They’ve got a great team over there. We’re just going to keep battling it out and keep trying to get better over here.”
The Colts ran at Miller to see how he held up. Early on he was getting pushed around, but Miller seemed to get faster as the game went on.
Shaun Phillips: B
Phillips got early pressure on Luck in Week 7. His sack and two tackles for a loss helped to stuff the Colts offense.
This was the 40th straight game the Broncos have had at least one sack in a game. That mark is good for the best active streak in the NFL.
Danny Trevathan: C-
Trevathan is better than he played in Week 7. He was burned by Darrius Heyward-Bey in the seam early in the game. Later on, he was burned again. This time it was Coby Fleener who got by Trevathan with ease.
He's normally a standout player in coverage, but on Sunday Trevathan looked lost. He did record one pass defensed and one quarterback hit in addition to racking up eight tackles.
Nate Irving: C
Irving was not asked to cover much against the Colts. That's a good thing because coverage skills are not the hallmark of his game. He does have a nose for the ball, and did find his way to three tackles against the Colts. One of those tackles was for a loss.
Paris Lenon: D
Lenon filled in for Wesley Woodyard in Week 7. He struggled in coverage, dropped a pass that could have been an interception and was penalized for defensive holding late in the game.
Chris Harris: C+
Harris finished the game with seven tackles, including one for a loss and one pass defensed. He did a good job of wrapping up an opponent, even a bigger one like tight end Coby Fleener.
He showed good timing when breaking up a pass intended for T.Y. Hilton.
Champ Bailey: D
It was another rough week for Bailey. He struggled in coverage and left the game in the first half with a foot injury.
Bailey did break up a pass intended for Hilton, but he was burned by Darrius Heyward-Bey before his exit.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: C-
Rodger-Cromartie had four tackles in the game against the Colts. He also chipped in with one tackle for loss and one pass defensed.
He came out of the game for a brief period with what looked like an injured arm. Rodgers-Cromartie was able to return later in the game.
Kayvon Webster: C
Webster continues to play with a chip on his shoulder. His four tackles against the Colts were all big hits. He does a good job of hitting but needs to do a better job of wrapping up.
Rahim Moore: C
Moore was all over the field against the Colts. He helped in run support as the Broncos defense held the Colts to only 3.9 yards per carry. As a pass defender Moore was slow to react, and that's why his grade isn't higher.
Duke Ihenacho: C+
Ihenacho had an inconsistent game. He led the team in tackles with nine and seemed to always be around the football. Ihenacho had some big hits against the Colts but also whiffed in coverage a few times.
A recovered fumble helps his Week 7 grade.
Trindon Holliday: D
Holliday's two fumbles earn him this low grade. His lost fumble near the end of the first quarter gave the Colts the lead. Holliday is a dangerous return man, but he needs to hang onto the rock in order to earn a better grade and make a bigger impact for the Broncos.
Matt Prater: A
Prater was once again perfect on the day. He knocked in both of his field-goal attempts, including a 47-yard kick. Prater also chipped in three extra points against the Colts.
Britton Colquitt: A
It was a heavier workload on Sunday than Colquitt is used to. He punted seven times against the Colts and finished with an average of 47.3 yards. This tied the season-high seven punts he had against the Ravens in Week 1.