Luck bests Manning in Colts' 24-13 win over bungling Broncos
After saying last month that he planned on coming back for an 18th season, the five-time MVP wasn't so certain after his latest playoff fiasco.
''I guess I just can't give that simple answer,'' Manning said. ''I'm processing it. So, I can't say that.''
Luck, the top pick in the 2012 draft following Manning's tearful divorce from the Colts, has Indy one win away from its first Super Bowl since 2009. And he's not the least bit surprised the team has gone from 2-14 in 2011 to the cusp of a conference championship in three short years.
''I think there were high expectations,'' Luck said. ''I remember the first day I walked in the building. It's a winning franchise and it seems to be in the DNA of the Colts that you win.''
The Colts (13-5) visit New England (13-4) Sunday.
''It's good for us to be here now, but there's more work to do,'' Luck said. ''To come on the road against a very good team in this round of the playoffs and get a win, that's huge and that's awesome.''
This was the third time Denver's season ended in ugly fashion since Manning switched teams in 2012.
While Manning ponders his future, GM John Elway might also be thinking about coach John Fox's status. He's won four straight AFC West crowns but keeps coming up short in what he calls the ''real season.''
''I'm the head coach, the buck stops here,'' Fox said.
Manning got off to another terrific start this season but once Julius Thomas sprained an ankle and lost his mojo, the Broncos weren't the same, either. Manning, bothered by a thigh injury, had just three TDs and six interceptions in December.
Yet, C.J. Anderson's emergence gave the Broncos (12-5) confidence they finally had the ingredients to avenge last year's wrenching Super Bowl loss to Seattle. That grinding ground game didn't show up Sunday. Neither did their star-studded defense that was unable to pressure Luck all afternoon.
''You never see Peyton overthrow guys,'' Colts defensive tackle Jean Francois said. ''He usually puts the ball right on the numbers. And when we he kept overthrowing it, we knew we had him.''
''The season's over. It's a huge disappointment,'' said Sanders. ''It's sad because we definitely had the potential to be a Super Bowl-winning team.''
Other takeaways from Denver's second home playoff loss in three years coming off a first-round bye:
SWEET VINDICATION: This win validated Jim Irsay's decision to cut Manning so he could draft Luck.
''I knew it was the right thing to do for the Colts,'' Irsay said. ''I saw Archie (Manning) last night. We had a nice conversation. Happened to be at Elway's Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. It was a decision that it was the right move to make. Peyton and I had talked about it. He said it best in the press conference. I didn't decide. He didn't decide. The football gods laid the cards out. We both knew it as best for him and us.''
PLAYOFF PRATFALLS: The Broncos were the AFC's only unbeaten team at home and the only team in the NFL with a top-five offense and a top-five defense. But Manning has gone one-and-done in the playoffs a record nine times.
Each of his three seasons in Denver has ended in humbling losses, to the Ravens and Colts at home after first-round byes, and to Seattle in last year's Super Bowl.
This was one of his worst playoff performances ever. He never found a rhythm, constantly overthrew his receivers and finished 26 of 46 for 111 yards, one TD and no interceptions.
''It's just disappointing,'' Manning said. ''Everyone would like to win their last game of the season.''
LUCK vs. MANNING: It's now Luck 2, Manning 1.
Manning lost his emotional homecoming in 2013 but beat his former team 31-24 in the opener this season.
Luck completed 27 of 43 passes for 265 yards with two TDs and two interceptions or sacks in the rubber match.
''We needed to win the game for us. It wasn't about Peyton or Andrew or anything like that,'' Irsay said.
BRING ON BRADY: The Colts can relish beating Manning but come Monday, it's time to start thinking about how to knock off Tom Brady.
''Everybody we play is big time,'' safety Mike Adams said.
It wasn't so much Brady who led the Patriots to a 42-20 win over Indy on Nov. 16. It was Jonas Gray, who ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for just 80 yards the rest of the season and was inactive for New England's 35-31 win over Baltimore Saturday.
''The first round of the playoffs turned into the last game of the season,'' Talib said. ''That's as bad as it gets.''
Notes: There were no significant injuries. ... Luck improved to 5-1 in temperatures 40 or below. ... Manning fell to 2-4 following a divisional bye.
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