By Rich Kurtzman
This time of year is all about taking care of business, which is exactly what the Indianapolis Colts did on Sunday afternoon. Faced with the Cincinnati Bengals, who hadn't won a playoff game since 1990, the Colts were led by the pronounced passing of Andrew Luck to win 26-10.
Luck went 31-44 for 376 yards and one touchdown, which went to rookie Donte Moncrief, while T.Y. Hilton was the leading receiver with 103 yards. Third-year running back Dan Herron was the Colts' workhorse Sunday afternoon, rushing for 56 yards and a score while catching a game-high 10 passes for another 85 yards. Herron's only misstep was his fumble late in the second quarter which turned into a field goal drive for the Bengals to bring the game to 13-10 Indy. The second half was literally all Indianapolis on the offensive end, as they matched their first half output of 13 points as Adam Vinatieri booted home all four of his field goal opportunities in the game.
Luck is a sensational young quarterback, the reason the Colts were able to cut Peyton Manning after playing 13 years for the franchise, starting every, single game. Luck is the “air apparent” of Manning, no doubt, leading the league in both passing yards (4,894) and touchdowns (42) in the regular season. He was on again during the team's Wildcard game, living up to the big stage in only his fourth playoff game. Getting pressure on the young gunslinger will be of great importance to the Denver defense. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are each physical freaks of nature, either one can be a game-changer depending on the day. And besides just those two phenomenal playmakers, others like Terrance Knighton and Malik Jackson have to put some heat in the kitchen, too. Luckily for Denver, they'll be enjoying some home cooking.
Of course, he's also able to make plays with his legs, so the Broncos must be aware of that aspect of Luck's game and can't let it beat them, either. Speaking of running well, Herron is now a focal point of Denver's second-best run defense. The 5'10” 212 pound running back has really come on in the second half of the year, with 277 yards and 164 receiving yards in the final six games of the regular season. Interestingly, Herron began his career in Cincy, so to play them in the postseason must've been extra special. It's exactly what Peyton Manning faces this Sunday when the Colts come to Denver.
Manning helped the Colts win their second ever Super Bowl in 2006 and built the state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Stadium with his all-time greatness for over a decade. But following four neck fusion surgeries, Manning was cut and landed in the Mile High City, where he's enjoyed some of the best play in his Hall of Fame career. This game can come down to the quarterbacks, and also how well each team's secondary plays.
Former Broncos safety Mike Adams has been playing the best football of his life, with a team-high five interceptions and 11 passes defended, along with two fumble recoveries. LaRon Landry is a hard-hitting free safety that plays with Adams and the two veterans make up a physical tandem in the defensive backfield. Outside, there's Darius Butler and Vontae Davis, Davis having four interceptions as well as two forced fumbles. Denver features Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. outside, with Rahim Moore and hopefully T.J. Ward is able to return from his neck injury sustained in Week 16. All told, there is a ton of talent in the secondary of both teams, making it all the more difficult for the star quarterbacks.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano took over the Colts the year Manning became a Bronco, and Manning is 1-1 all-time against his former team from Indianapolis. The Colts beat the Broncos in Week 7 of the 2013 season 39-33, handing Denver their first loss of the regular season. But Denver beat Indy to kickoff the 2014 regular season 31-24 and the Colts will want revenge. Four previous times the two teams have met in the postseason, with Indianapolis holding the 3-1 lead.
The game kicks off at 2:20 p.m. MT on Sunday, January 11.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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