Broncos score against Colts: Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson stumble as Indianapolis barely wins ugly defensive battle

The Broncos and Colts each entered Thursday night’s AFC showdown battered and bruised, with little offense to show. And boy did he maintain that in his prime-time “competition.” Injuries, three-outs and forced throws headlined the awful competition, with Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan taking turns trying to outplay each other in negative plays. The back-and-forth was so brutal, it turns out, that neither team could reach the end zone in four quarters, combining six field goals to lock in a 9-9 tie. which required extensions. The Colts won the toss, added another field goal and stuffed Denver on a fourth-and-one in the red zone to secure the 12-9 victory.

The Broncos had previously entered halftime with a 6-3 lead thanks to a pair of field goals from Brandon McManus, but both teams entered the break – and then later into overtime – looking, frankly, like losers. Indy’s win improves the team to 2-2-1, while Denver drops to 2-3 on the year with the loss. But both teams still have major questions to answer going forward.

Here are some takeaways from Thursday’s botched showdown:

Why the Colts won

It’s not because they played a full game, or anything like it, that’s for sure. Ryan was screaming and screaming on his way to the locker room after picking up the win, not thanks to him or the entire Colts offense. Ryan, 37, looked very much his age flailing around a collapsing pocket, taking a beating that included six sacks and plenty more hits. It’s a miracle he still stood tall to lead the go-ahead in OT. But give credit to Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr., who made the most of the often-suspect pitches Ryan threw at them. And definitely give it to the defense, which was without Shaquille Leonard but absolutely bullied everything Denver did with the ball in their hands. DeForest Buckner led the way up front, headlining a four-sack effort that also pushed Wilson to a pair of rookie-like interceptions. But the whole “D” intensified when it mattered most, forcing the Broncos to an 0-for-4 finish in the red zone.

Why the Broncos lost

That superstar QB they traded and gave $235 million for? Yes, it may be broken. Wilson showed life again at the last second, nearly guiding Denver to a win from behind in OT, but for the previous four quarters he acted as one of the most uncomfortable and inaccurate starters in the NFL. Gone are the urges to push the ball down, despite another stellar effort from Courtland Sutton. Gone is the awareness of the pocket, hence the four bags, absorbed at inopportune times. And there was no more clutch decision-making, with Russ most blatantly forcing two throws – one deep, one into the end zone – which ended up being picked. Denver’s defense wiped the floor with Ryan, nearly winning the game on their own despite losing veterans like Josey Jewell to injury. But again, Nathaniel Hackett’s unit couldn’t function consistently. Mike Boone showed playing ability in place of Javonte Williams, but that didn’t matter once they sniffed the end zone.


The moment the game started, seeing as it guaranteed over 60 minutes of pre-season quality football? No, you could instead look at Hackett’s decision to go fourth-and-1, with 2:38 left in overtime, and the Colts fresh out of practice on goal. The coach could have played it safe and fired McManus for another field goal, playing for a 12-12 tie and hoping Indy missed their next possession. But he kept Russ on the field, surely aware of his inability to trust the star QB in the team’s Week 1 primetime loss, and dialed in a pass. Wilson quickly opted to shoot into traffic and Indy easily deflected the ball to seal the win.

Game of the game

It’s only fitting that the most exciting play of this game came on what could almost have been the blunder of the game: Sutton’s 51-yard deep catch, which he had to clear away from his own teammate. Wilson struggled to push the ball downfield against Indy, but Sutton showed focus and elite hands to help his QB in the third quarter, coming up and past rookie counterpart Montrell Washington to secure the play. Too bad that he came in wasted effort.

And after

The Broncos (2-3) hit the road Oct. 17 for a matchup with rivals Chargers (2-2) on “Monday Night Football.” The Colts (2-2-1), meanwhile, will return home for a rematch with the rival Jaguars (2-2), who shut them out 24-0 in Week 2.

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