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Whether Peyton Manning has played his final game has yet to be determined; what has been determined is the ascension of Andrew Luck to elite NFL quarterback status. The Stanford product led the Indianapolis Colts to a 24-13 AFC Divisional Playoff win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Luck threw for 265 yards on 27-of-43 passes. He added a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. He was able to make plays all over the field targeting nine different receivers. For the second consecutive game, Daniel Herron led the team in receptions with eight. He also carried the ball 23 times for 63 yards and one touchdown as Indianapolis ran for 99 yards against the Broncos defense.
The Indianapolis offensive line, a question mark at the start of the playoffs, has gelled. They’ve made their presence felt in the run game and in pass protection: Luck hasn’t been sacked in two weeks of playoff football.
The Bronco offense never was able to mount effective drives as the Colt defense pressured Manning, sacking him twice, and played receivers tight and physical.
Manning wasn’t able to throw the long ball with any velocity; he looked befuddled throughout the game as Colt defenders forced him to throw short. His receivers didn’t help the cause with several drops.
Denver mixed the pass and run in their opening drive, which went 68 yards for a touchdown. The 7-0 lead held up through the first quarter.
Indianapolis tied the game 7-7, on a Herron 6-yard run. They took a 14-7 lead on a 3-yard pass from Luck to Dwayne Allen.
Denver cut the lead to 14-10 on a 45-yard field goal by Connor Barth. The scoring opportunity was created when a Luck pass was intercepted by Bradley Roby at the Indianapolis 49-yard line.
Following the Broncos three-and-out to start the second half, Indianapolis mounted a 72-yard eleven play drive, culminating with Luck to Hakeem Nix 15-yard touchdown.
Connor Barth’s 41-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter cut the Colts lead to 21-13.
Denver appeared to seize momentum after the score, forcing Luck and the Colts into a three-and-out. However, the Broncos couldn’t capitalize and returned the favor, punting the ball back to the Colts with 12:20 to play in the game.
Protecting the lead, Indianapolis mounted a powerful thirteen play drive that saw them run the ball nine times for 31 yards and eat up 8:14 off the clock. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 30-yard field goal to put them up 24-13.
Denver had two more opportunities after turning the ball over on downs, but C.J. Anderson was stopped inches short of the first down marker, and they ultimately ran out of time on their final possession.
The Colts travel to New England to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game next weekend. It will be Luck’s first appearance in the AFC Championship Game.