It was thought by many that when Peyton Manning returned to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since the end of the 2011 season, the all-time great quarterback would take care of business -- especially after some contentious quotes from Colts owner Jim Irsay this week regarding the team's roster construction and playoff record when Manning was the team's quarterback.
But aside form one hyper-efficient drive in the first quarter, Manning was relatively stuffed by the Colts' defense, and the team that now belongs to Andrew Luck headed to the locker room at the half with a 26-14 lead. It was the first time the Broncos had trailed at the half since the season-opener against the Baltimore Ravens, and Manning threw five touchdown passes in the second half of that game to tie the NFL record for seven in a single game.
If Manning is to repeat that performance, he'll have to find ways to solve Greg Manusky's defense. Manning did throw two touchdown passes in the first half, but he completed just 9-of-16 passes for 110 yards. Luck, on the other hand, completed 16-of-25 passes for 199 yards and three scores, including two in the last six minutes of the half. Denver's 14-12 lead was eradicated by Luck's efficiency on touchdown passes to fullback Stanley Havili and tight end Coby Fleener.
Neither team ran very much in the first half -- Knowshon Moreno led the Broncos with 34 yards on 11 carries, while Trent Richardson led the Colts with 24 yards on six carries.
The relative scarcity of scoring for the Broncos was especially surprising because they often started with a short field -- receiver Trindon Holliday returned three kicks for 104 yards. The Broncos scored their touchdowns on drives that started on their own 44- and 49-yard lines, but fell apart on drives that started further back.
The impact play of the first half came from Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis, who added to his league-leading sack total (now up to 10.5) with a sack/fumble combination that was recovered for a safety in the end zone by linebacker Erik Walden. The Colts trailed, 14-10 before that play, and were not scored upon after.
"I came close to hitting Manning my rookie year," Mathis said of the quarterback be played with from 2003 through '11. "I got an earful from more than just coaches." Now, the only earful Mathis received was from a crowd that got to celebrate its old hero, and then watch its new hero go to work in a winning fashion.