DENVER – Andrew Luck has his signature NFL victory, and it came against his predecessor, of all people.
Hardly pressured all afternoon, Luck threw two touchdown passes and outplayed Peyton Manning in leading the Indianapolis Colts past the Denver Broncos 24-13 on Sunday.
The Colts (13-5) advanced to the AFC Championship Game at New England (13-4), where they lost 42-20 on Nov. 16.
"I'd like to think I am a better quarterback and would like to think we're a better team" now, Luck said. "We are well equipped to handle the unknown, the unforeseen."
They sure were Sunday night in the Rockies, where Denver had gone 8-0 this season and averaged 35 points per game.
"I think we're playing good team ball," said Luck, who improved to 3-2 in the playoffs with his first road victory. "We're feeding off each other. Offensively we're making enough plays to put some points on the board. Great night. So proud to be a part of the Colts in this victory."
The Broncos (12-5) are left to deal with the hangover of yet another playoff debacle — and, more importantly, questions about Manning's future.
After saying on Christmas Eve that he planned on coming back for an 18th season, the five-time MVP wasn't so certain after his latest playoff fiasco.
Asked point blank if he planned on playing next season, Manning said, "Uh, yeah, I guess I just can't give that simple answer, I'm processing it. So, I can't say that. I could not say that."
It was the first time Manning had been ambiguous about his future since spinal fusion surgery on his neck cost him all of the 2011 season and led Colts owner Jim Irsay to release him in 2012 so he could use the top pick to draft Luck.
"I knew it was the right thing to do for the Colts," Irsay said outside his jubilant locker room. "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."
There's sure to be questions about John Fox's future, as well. He's won four consecutive AFC West titles, but keeps coming up short in what he calls the "real season."
"I'm the head coach, the buck stops here," Fox said.
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.
"We picked a bad day to have a bad game," said Terrance Knighton, who had guaranteed these Broncos, with an NFL-high nine Pro Bowlers, would hoist the Lombardi Trophy next month.
Manning has gone one-and-done in the playoffs a record nine times in his otherwise stellar career. That includes twice in Denver, where he's 38-10 in the regular season but only 2-3 in the playoffs.
Overall, he's 11-13 in the postseason and 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. Everyone would like to win their last game of the season," Manning said after guiding Denver to a TD on its opening possession and only two field goals on his final 11 drives.
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.