The Broncos’ franchise-record winning streak ended Sunday night at 17 in particularly violent fashion, with their star quarterback feted before the game and treated like a wedding crasher the rest of the night.
The patina of perfection fell away early. For all their Star Wars numbers on offense, to borrow a Jim Irsay phrase, the Broncos’ championship aspirations are as tenuous as anybody’s, especially if they keep letting pass rushers blast Peyton Manning from his blind side.
Before their 39-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, they had gone the equivalent of a full season plus a game since losing in the regular season, although even the streak felt less than perfect given the rather important playoff loss that came between the 11 wins that closed last season and the six that began this one.
For much of the streak, especially recently, the Broncos were so dominant that big themes seem necessary to explain the fact that they finally lost. The talk will be all about the soap opera, Manning’s return to Indianapolis and how he wasn’t quite himself while Andrew Luck, his successor, was.
Maybe it was the oddity of a 90-second tribute video to the opposing quarterback just before kickoff, which Manning felt obliged to acknowledge with emotional, heartfelt gestures.
Maybe it was the Colts’ decision — presumably owner Jim Irsay’s — to open the roof and the windows at one end, creating a chillier, windier environment than Lucas Oil Stadium normally provides for a visiting quarterback generally thought to be at his best when conditions are pristine.
Maybe it was the sack-fumble-safety when Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, a former teammate, crushed Manning from behind in the second quarter after leaving Broncos backup left tackle Chris Clark grasping at air.
“It was a good hit,” Manning said. “A healthy one, as I would call it.”
When a post-game questioner suggested his passes wobbled more after that, Manning grinned wryly.
“I throw a lot of wobbly passes,” he said. “Throw a lot of wobbly touchdowns, too.”
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