Colts outlast Broncos in overtime in touchdown-less Thursday night struggle

DENVER — The Indianapolis Colts won one of the wildest games ever by sleepwalking for three and a half quarters before waking up late in the fourth and overtime to earn a 12-9 win over the Denver Broncos. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the seven combined field goals in a game in which both teams scored by field goals alone is an NFL record.

2019 Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore made the night’s two biggest plays and rewarded the Colts’ confidence in signing him this offseason with a late regular-time interception and a successful pass deflection from Russell Wilson in the Renewal.

The Colts remain a mess in many ways, but they’re back in the middle of the AFC South race at 2-2-1.


Indianapolis Colts

Worrying trend: The Colts made sweeping changes to their offensive line that came into play, but while the lineup changed, the results didn’t. The Colts nevertheless gave up on constant penetration and failed to consistently open holes in the running game. Matt Ryan was sacked six times, giving him 21 sacks for the season. The Colts entered the game at No. 27 on ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, and it’s hard to imagine them improving much after Week 5. The Colts placed rookie Bernhard Raimann at left tackle, Matt Pryor at right tackle and Braden Smith at right guard. Lots of moves for little in return.

QB Breakdown: Ryan’s struggles continued and possibly worsened with Jonathan Taylor unable to run back and Nyheim Hines injured in the first quarter. Ryan threw two more interceptions, giving him six for the season (in five games). The veteran looked underwhelmed at times, especially when he threw a confusing interception to Caden Sterns in the second quarter. Sterns lurked in midfield and looked Ryan straight in the eye, and Ryan inexplicably threw the ball straight at him. Ryan showed some spark again in the fourth quarter, leading the Colts to a crucial field goal drive to force overtime, but he needs to start faster.

Breakout Performance: Rookie receiver Alec Pierce had a coming-out performance with eight receptions for 81 yards, including three impressive catches in the Colts’ fourth-quarter tie. The Cincinnati second-round pick was Ryan’s go-to receiver, being targeted nine times, including some of the game’s key moments. One concern for Pierce’s game was his ability to make tough catches in traffic, but Pierce made a number of contested and diving catches throughout the game, which helped transform the complexion of the Colts’ young, broad-receiving corps. –– Stephen Holder

Underestimated statistics to get to know: With two fumbles on Thursday, Ryan now has 11 in the season. That’s the highest performance by a player in five games since the 1970 merger.

Next game: vs. Jaguars (1pm ET, Sunday, October 16)


Denver Broncos

If people want to know when the Broncos officially exhausted their preseason expectations, circle Thursday night on your calendar and the Broncos’ overtime loss to the Colts in a teeth-gnashing, board-scratching, eye-tight game against the Broncos won until they didn’t anymore.

The goodwill the Broncos brought to the season after the trade for quarterback Russell Wilson has been lost in a worsening touchdown drought from a team that continues to squander heroic defensive efforts. In short, the Broncos’ offense is now such a heavy anchor that it’s dragged the team’s defense with it. And a failed pass play with Wilson in the shotgun on the fourth and inches in the last play of the game was the capper.

The Broncos have played five games this season and have scored 16 points or fewer in four of them. It’s all settled into too many penalty flags, missed blocks, lost passes (add a few more Thursdays) and a general expression of unease almost every time they have the ball. So, yes, the Broncos are now 2-3 with two inexplicable late-game decisions by coach Nathaniel Hackett, both in prime time.

Worrying trend: Look, the Broncos ran a dominant defense to the franchise’s last Super Bowl win — Super Bowl 50 to close out the 2015 season — so Thursday night’s defensive effort shouldn’t be glossed over (six sacks, two interceptions). But the Broncos have a touchdown problem on the other side of the ball, and it’s not getting better. They went into play last in the league in red-zone offense and finished 31st in scoring. And Thursday helped none of those numbers with just 103 yards attacking in the first half. The second half wasn’t any better. Hackett and Wilson keep saying the team is “close” to a breakout, but it’s looking anything but now.

Largest hole on the board: Wilson was the team’s leading rusher in the Week 4 loss to the Raiders and was the team’s leading rusher well into Thursday’s fourth quarter. Hackett has consistently touted the merits of a running game as part of the Broncos’ offense. The first game since Javonte Williams went on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury wasn’t what anyone had in mind. Even in their normally dependable two-tight end staffing, the Broncos have struggled. They had 54 rushing yards by the end of the third quarter, 23 of them from Wilson, and 18 of Wilson’s rushing yards were in play in a single game during the Broncos’ first possession.

QB Breakdown: Wilson is beside himself. Every Thursday night affair always has a brief week element, but Wilson wasn’t dialed in at all, starting with the Broncos’ first failed trip inside the Colts’ 20-yard line on their first possession of the game. Wilson was 21 of 39 with 274 yards and two interceptions. He took sacks, fell receivers and was checked for a concussion early in the fourth quarter before returning to the game. The learning curve has always been steep on a Broncos offense — John Elway once said it took him about half a season to feel comfortable in Mike Shanahan’s first year as coach — but Wilson is looking less comfortable now than he did in the season opener.

Injury Report: The Broncos, who lost running back Javonte Williams (knee) for the season and outside linebacker Randy Gregory (knee) for several weeks last Sunday, also had a long list of injuries Thursday. Left tackle Garett Bolles was sent off in the fourth quarter with a leg injury, and linebacker Josey Jewell (knee), cornerback Ronald Darby (knee) and linebacker Baron Browning (wrist) did not finish the game. — Jeff Legwold

Underestimated statistics to get to know: Brandon McManus’ field goal provided the first offensive points the Broncos have scored in the third quarter of this season. When Denver entered today, he had scored just two points on a Jimmy Garoppolo safety that saw the 49ers quarterback kick out of the back of the endzone.

Next game: at Chargers (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday, October 17) Colts outlast Broncos in overtime in touchdown-less Thursday night struggle

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