INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck finally reverted to his old form Sunday — and the Colts finally looked like the team everyone expected.
Luck threw two touchdown passes and set up Adam Vinatieri for a tiebreaking 55-yard field goal with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left, giving the Colts a 27-24 victory over Denver that ruined Peyton Manning's homecoming.
"That's who we need to be, consistently," Luck said. "Probably a little bit of soul-searching, trying to figure out what we want to be. The truth of the matter is we have the pieces, which is pretty darn obvious."
The Colts (4-5) ended a three-game losing streak, won for the first time in six tries outside the horrible AFC South, and retained their division lead.
Manning, meanwhile, fell 3 yards short of becoming the NFL's career passing leader — after his second interception and two late defensive penalties — allowed Indy to run the final six minutes off the clock.
Denver's quarterback heads into next week's game against Kansas City with 71,836 career yards; Brett Favre had 71,838.
But that was not the record Manning really wanted to break in a venue many credit him with helping build. He'll also have to wait to break Favre's career record for career regular-season victories (186) by a quarterback after going 21 of 36 with 281 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
The Broncos (7-1) were the only unbeaten team to lose this weekend.
"I've been in enough situations like that in my career where I've been able to focus on the task at hand — trying to win the football game," he said after losing his second in a row at Lucas Oil Stadium in what could be his final game in Indy. "I kind of dealt with them [the emotions] a few years ago. I felt like this time coming back was just playing against a good football team."
A team that was mired in turmoil.
Only five days after firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and giving the play-calling duties to Rob Chudzinski — and four days after Luck wound up on the injury report again — Manning's successor played like the best young quarterback in football. The Colts followed his lead. They started fast and finished strong. They had no turnovers. They committed only four penalties.
"We really feel we've competed with the best football teams in the league — Denver, New England, Carolina," team owner Jim Irsay said. "We still feel we can go the places we dream of going."