DENVER — The Indianapolis Colts won one of the wildest games in memory, sleepwalking through three and a half quarters before awakening late in the fourth and overtime to score a 12-9 win over the Denver Broncos. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the seven combined field goals in a game in which both teams only scored by way of field goal is an NFL record.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, made the night’s two biggest plays, rewarding the Colts’ faith in signing him this offseason with an interception late in regulation and a game-winning pass deflection of Russell Wilson in overtime.
The Colts remain a mess in many ways, but they are 2-2-1 and back in the thick of the AFC South race.
Troubling trend: The Colts made wholesale changes to their offensive line entering the game, but while the lineup changed, the results did not. The Colts still gave up constant penetration and failed to consistently open holes in the running game. Matt Ryan was sacked six times, giving him 21 sacks taken for the season. The Colts entered the game ranked 27th in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, and it’s difficult to imagine they will improve much after Week 5. The Colts moved rookie Bernhard Raimann to left tackle, Matt Pryor to right tackle and Braden Smith to right guard. Lots of moves with little to show in return.
QB breakdown: Ryan’s struggles continued, and perhaps worsened given the absence of running back Jonathan Taylor and the first-quarter injury to Nyheim Hines. Ryan threw two more interceptions, giving him six for the season (in five games). The veteran looked overwhelmed at times, particularly when he threw a confounding interception to Caden Sterns in the second quarter. Sterns was lurking in the middle of the field, looking right into Ryan’s eyes, and Ryan inexplicably threw the ball right to him. Ryan showed some spark in the fourth quarter again, leading the Colts to a tying 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 on the Colts’ game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. The second-round pick from Cincinnati was Ryan’s go-to receiver, targeted nine times, including some of the game’s most crucial moments. A concern about 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, helping to change the complexion of the Colts’ young wide-receiving corps. –– Stephen Holder
Underrated statistic to know: With two fumbles Thursday, Ryan now has 11 on the season. That’s the most by a player through five games since the 1970 merger.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 16)
If folks want to know when the Broncos officially used up their preseason expectations, circle Thursday night on the calendar and the Broncos’ overtime loss to the Colts in a teeth-grinding, chalkboard-scratching, hard-on-the-eyes game the Broncos had won until they didn’t.
Because the goodwill the Broncos brought into the season after the trade for quarterback Russell Wilson has been lost in a worsening touchdown drought by a team that continues to squander heroic defensive efforts. In short, the Broncos’ offense is now such a heavy anchor it has dragged the team’s defense down with it. And a failed pass play, with Wilson in the shotgun on fourth-and-inches on the game’s final play, was the capper.
The Broncos have played five games this season and scored 16 or fewer points in four of them. It has all devolved into too many penalty flags, missed blocks, dropped passes (add a couple more Thursday) and a general look of discomfort almost every time they have the ball. So, yes, the Broncos are now 2-3 with two inexplicable late-game decisions from coach Nathaniel Hackett, both in prime-time settings.
Troubling trend: Look, the Broncos rode a dominant defense to the franchise’s last Super Bowl win — Super Bowl 50 to close out the 2015 season – so the defensive effort Thursday night 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 ain’t getting any better. They entered the game last in the league in red zone offense and 31st in scoring in goal-to-go situations. And Thursday didn’t help any of those numbers, with only 103 yards of offense 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 looks like anything but right now.
Biggest hole in gameplan: Wilson was the team’s leading rusher in the Week 4 loss to the Raiders and he was the team’s leading rusher deep into the fourth quarter on Thursday. Hackett has consistently extolled the virtues of a running game as part of the Broncos’ offense. The first game since Javonte Williams went to injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury was not what anybody had in mind. Even in their usually-reliable two-tight end personnel grouping the Broncos struggled. They had 54 yards rushing at the end of the third quarter, 23 of those by Wilson and 18 of Wilson’s rushing yards were on a single play during the Broncos’ first possession of the game.
QB breakdown: Wilson is out of sorts. There is always a short-week element to any Thursday night affair, 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 passing for 274 yards and two interceptions, he took sacks, overthrew receivers and was evaluated for a concussion early in the fourth quarter before returning to the game. The learning curve has always been steep in a Broncos’ offense – John Elway once said it took him about a half a season to feel comfortable in Mike Shanahan’s first year as coach — but Wilson looks 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 this past Sunday, had a long list of injuries Thursday as well. Left tackle Garett Bolles was carted off in the fourth quarter with a leg injury as linebacker Josey Jewell (knee), cornerback Ronald Darby (knee) and linebacker Baron Browning (wrist) did not finish the game. — Jeff Legwold
Underrated statistic to know: Brandon McManus‘ field goal provided the first offensive points the Broncos have scored in the third quarter this season. Entering today, Denver had only scored two points on a Jimmy Garoppolo safety in which the quarterback stepped out of the back of the end zone.
Next game: at Chargers (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Oct. 17)