The same problems that have plagued the Denver Broncos all season came back to bite them early against the Indianapolis Colts in a “Thursday Night Football” matchup of AFC cellar dwellers.
Trevor Siemian threw an interception on Denver’s first drive and Brandon McManus missed a field goal on their second drive, but a gutsy drive by backup quarterback Brock Osweiler late in the second quarter had the Broncos within striking distance at the half.
Coming off a shutout victory over the Jets in which Denver controlled the game by running the ball, Siemian came out throwing on the first three plays and converted two of those for an early first-down. Three straight runs from C.J. Anderson produced a first down before Siemian went back to the air and made an all-too common mistake. The quarterback targeted Demaryius Thomas over the middle in heavy coverage and threw his 14th interception of the season (his 10th on the road) for Denver’s 28th turnover on the year.
The Colts took over at midfield and picked up 22 quick yards on third-and-seven with a screen pass to 34-year-old running back Frank Gore. An out from Brissett to T.Y. Hilton for 10 yards had Indianapolis into the Denver red zone on the very next play. Brissett did the rest himself, scrambling nearly untouched up the middle on third-and-two from the Denver seven-yard line for the game’s first touchdown and an early Colts lead.
Emmanuel Sanders caught a five-yard pass on second down of Denver’s ensuing drive, then he took a false start penalty on third down to wipe that out. The wideout made up for it, though, when Siemian dropped a ball into Sanders’ arms 26 yards downfield to avoid the three-and-out. Fullback Andy Janovich and Anderson combined to pick up another first down. Siemian hit Thomas for another 23 yards an the Broncos looked to be in business, but things would further unravel soon after.
Denver’s red zone struggles continued as Siemian missed on a pair of pass attempts and was sacked on third down, forcing a McManus field goal try. McManus’ struggles continued as the kicker missed his seventh field goal of the year, this one from 40 yards out after Denver took a delay of game penalty before the kick.
Adding injury to insult, Siemian suffered a left shoulder injury on the sack and was carted off the field.
Brissett carried the momentum from the missed field goal into the next drive, moving the Colts quickly into Denver territory. Adam Gotsis came up with a big tackle for loss on first down just before the first quarter ended, however, which ultimately resulted in a Rigoberto Sanchez punt.
Denver caught their first break of the game when Chris Milton took a fair-catch interference penalty at the 11-yard line to give Brock Osweiler, in for Siemian, some breathing room.
The breath was sucked out of Lucas Oil Stadium on the punt, though, as Brandon Williams was injured on the play and stayed down on the field for some time before being immobilized and carted off the field. Reports later indicated that Williams, who suffers from a spinal condition, was responsive and moving at the hospital later in the night.
Tight end Ross Travis caught a slant and took it 20 yards downfield. A defensive holding penalty on Aqib Talib and a seven-yard Brissett run had the Colts quickly into Denver territory. Indianapolis lost Gore midway through the drive, but stayed committed to the run for another first down before the Denver defense bowed its back. Shane Ray make a key third-down tackle of Brissett to force an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The 44-year-old was true from 45 yards and the Colts had a 10-0 lead with 6:33 to play in the half.
The Denver offense got into a better rhythm on Osweiler’s second drive, with the quarterback hitting a breaking Thomas for 22 yards on the first play and Anderson rattling off 12 yards on the second play. Osweiler and Thomas connected for 11 yards on second-and-12 after a loss of yardage, though. Janovich was unable to power his way to a first down, forcing head coach Vance Joseph to make a gutsy call on fourth-and-two from the Colts’ 33-yard line. Osweiler lofted a pass to Sanders to just barely convert and keep the drive alive.
Denver caught another bad break when Garett Bolles was whistled for a holding penalty after what was nearly the play of the year by Devontae Booker. The second-year running back took a screen pass to the sideline and hurtled a diving Colts defender before coming back down inbounds and racing to the end zone. Osweiler got Bolles some redemption two plays later when he hit Sanders for a 17-yard gain as the clock wound down to the 2:00 warning.
With the ball at the Colts’ 18-yard line, Osweiler one-upped Brissett with a scramble on the same play design. The 6-foot-7 Osweiler dove headfirst into the end zone with a Colts defender closing in on him, giving the Broncos their first points of the night.
The Denver defense forced a quick three-and-out, giving Osweiler a chance to get his team on top. A holding penalty on Donald Stephenson cost them some valuable yards gained by Booker on the ground, eventually leading to Dixon’s second punt of the game with just :13 seconds left in the half.
Jordan Taylor made a nice tackle on Rogers on the punt, but after the Colts accepted an illegal formation penalty on long-snapper Casey Kreiter, Denver ran out the final :02 of the half on fourth down and went to the locker room trailing 10-7.