INDIANAPOLIS -- In the somewhat-charmed life the Denver Broncos have led this season, the script was in place.
The Broncos, no matter what happened, would make sure quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL records for career wins and yardage in Indianapolis against the team that cut him. They would also avenge a playoff loss from last January and move to 8-0.
“Too many penalties," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “That’s how you lose football games … too many mistakes, too many bad plays, too many things we don’t do. We scored enough to win and we didn’t."
Manning didn’t set a record for career wins because the Broncos didn’t win. And he came up three yards -- yes, three yards -- short of setting the career passing record, largely because cornerback Aqib Talib lost his cool and the Broncos didn’t get the ball back in the game’s closing minutes.
But in the end, the Broncos got a rather tidy look at their own football mortality. They’ve lived dangerously with some lottery-winning plays before arriving in Indianapolis. If they needed a sack, they got one. If they need an interception return for a touchdown, they got one.
And even when they needed a two-minute drive by Manning and the offense, followed by an improbable fumble return for a touchdown by Bradley Roby, they got both in Kansas City.
“It just goes to show it doesn’t matter; we can’t make mistakes," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We knew that before, but it really shows what it means. We didn’t do enough, especially on defense."
That might be the most troubling item of all. The Colts replaced their offensive coordinator six days ago but still appeared to have plenty of answers against a defense that had pretty much vexed everybody else they had faced.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who replaced the fired Pep Hamilton on Monday, worked with Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when the two were with the San Diego Chargers. And while Phillips has worked with or faced plenty of folks in a long career, Chudzinski did better than any other play caller the Broncos have faced in finding the seams in the Broncos’ pass coverages, particularly in isolating Denver’s linebackers and safeties at key times.
The Colts also owned third down, converting 12 of 20 in the game, a total that included three conversions on third-and-10, two on third-and-7, one third-and-6 and one third-and-5. As a result, the Colts gained the most yards against the Broncos this season (365), ran the most plays (77) and had the longest time of possession (38:39).
Asked if the Broncos were unsettled by anything the Colts did in the game, Ward simply said, “Nope."
He then added: “We just made mistakes. We didn’t play the defenses correct, just out of sync."
The Broncos were down 17-0 before Omar Bolden looked to have pulled some of the old get-it-done sprinkle dust out with an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown on the last play of the first half. The Broncos took that momentum and scored on their first possession of the second half -- a 64-yard dart from Manning to Emmanuel Sanders -- and the Broncos tied the game at 17 with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter.
That’s where they have lived for much of the season, right on the tightrope. Then their defense would make a play, often score a touchdown, and that would be that.
This time they got none of the above. They didn’t sack Andrew Luck when they needed to, didn’t stop the Colts running backs when they had to, and the Colts put together a 12-play touchdown drive.
Add it all up and the Broncos are no longer on the league’s list of undefeated teams. And the question now becomes whether the Colts cracked the code on the whole thing.
The Broncos say it was a bad day -- or “just one of those days," Ward said. Of all the players who caught passes from Luck on Sunday, only one has been named to a Pro Bowl -- T.Y. Hilton. So, yes, Luck played his best overall game of the season, given it was the first time he has not been intercepted. Yes, the Colts had a good plan. And yes, the Colts played an inspired brand of football for embattled coach Chuck Pagano.
But the Broncos still learned they can have the same problems everybody else had. And now we all get to see if the lesson sticks.