The Indianapolis Colts beat the Denver Broncos, 24-13, on Jan. 11 to advance to the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots on Jan. 18.
The Indianapolis Colts are moving on to the AFC Championship Game.
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The Colts beat the Denver Broncos, 24-13, on the road at the latter's Sports Authority at Mile High Field on Sunday, Jan. 11. Indianapolis dethroned the reigning AFC champions with a stellar defensive performance, per Colts.com's Kevin Bowen.
The Broncos won the coin toss but decided to defend. Indianapolis spotted the ball on its own 20-yard line with quarterback Andrew Luck passing off to running back Daniel "Boom" Herron for an eight-yard gain. However, the Colts couldn't get anything going from there and had to punt the ball. The Broncos almost went three-and-out on their first possession. However, defensive end Arthur Jones was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty which kept Denver's drive alive. Manning then lofted the ball to tight end Julius Thomas for a 32-yard touchdown, per Bowen.
The Colts didn't fare much better on their second drive as they were forced to punt again. Pat McAfee's punt forced the Broncos to take over on their own 4-yard line. Denver's two incompletions on second and third down gave the ball back to the Colts on yet another punt. Indianapolis wide receiver T.Y. Hilton's two catches for 43 yards moved the sticks entering the second quarter with Denver up 7-0, says Bowen.
Indianapolis then punctuated a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown by Herron. Adam Vinatieri's extra point knotted the count at 7 apiece, per Colts.com.
On third-and-12 on Denver's next possession, Colts rookie linebacker Jonathan Newsome strip-sacked Manning from his blind side. Indianapolis middle linebacker Jerrell Freeman recovered to give his team good field position on the opponent's 41-yard line, notes Bowen.
Luck's 22-yard pass to wide receiver Donte Moncrief got the Colts going on their next drive. Broncos Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib got called for holding on third-and goal to keep Indy's drive alive. Two plays later, tight end Dwayne Allen hauled in a three-yard touchdown to give the Colts the lead at 14-7. The Denver offense couldn't counter as Manning failed to connect with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, per Colts.com.
The Colts managed to march the ball downfield but were held to a 44-yard field-field goal attempt. Vinatieri uncharacteristically missed it as he went wide right on his kick. Denver couldn't capitalize on the miss as they did not connect on third down on Indianapolis' 39-yard line. When the Colts got the ball back, Luck threw an interception on third-and-12 near midfield, per Bowen.
The Broncos finally broke their silence with a 45-yard Connor Barth field goal on the first half's last possession.
Once the second half kicked off, the Broncos still couldn't hit their stride on offense. The Colts took over on their 28-yard line. They marched the ball 72 yards down the field for a Hakeem Nicks touchdown to put the Colts up in front, 21-10. Indianapolis' other tight end, Coby Fleener, helped sustain the team's drive by catching a 32-yard pass from Luck several possessions earlier, says Bowen.
The Broncos went three-and-out when they got the ball back. It seemed they finally caught a good break when Colts punt returner Josh Cribbs fumbled the ball after a punt return, with Denver's Omar Bolden recovering. However, the officials overturned the call and Indianapolis got the ball back on its own 30-yard line, per Colts.com. Luck then threw his second interception of the game when he was eyeing Moncrief downfield but was picked off by safety Rahim Moore instead.
The Broncos put three points on the board when Barth connected on his second field goal to kick off the fourth quarter. After a Colts three-and-out, Denver tried to rally but Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis broke up two Manning pass attempts to Thomas. Once Indianapolis got the ball back, Luck and Co. milked 8:14 off the game clock on a 13-play drive. Vinatieri made a field goal to put the Colts up by 11 once again at 24-13, per Bowen.
The Colts' defense came through again, stopping the Broncos on fourth down with just 2:50 remaining. Bowen stresses the postseason victory was Indianapolis' first on the road since the team won the Super Bowl during the 2006 NFL season.
Bowen's colleague at Colts.com, Steve Andress, stresses Indianapolis' run defense held the Broncos to just 88 yards on the ground -- a remarkable improvement from their 113 rushing-yards-per-game average during the regular season. The Colts also held the Broncos to just 4 of 16 conversions on third down.
However, Andress points out it was the Colts' masterful defensive effort against their former franchise quarterback in Manning that made all the difference. Even though the threw for 211 yards, he converted on just 56.5 percent of his pass attempts (26 of 46).
Colts safety Mike Adams told Andress they tried to confuse Manning as much as they could. He said, "Disguise we tried to confuse him a little bit. I guess it worked. We did everything we could. He's a great quarterback, but we did our thing."
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois told Colts.com, "That's unheard of to do that to a quarterback like that. That's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And to be able to do that in his stadium, you can't find the words. All you can do is be happy."
The Colts will take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 18 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The winner will move on to Super Bowl XLIX against the winner of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers matchup in the NFC Championship Game.
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