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Peyton Manning, Broncos fend off Colts in 31-24 victory

Peyton Manning, Broncos fend off Colts in 31-24 victory
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning passes during the second quarter of the Broncos' 31-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)

Peyton Manning has reached a rare milestone.

With a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, he joined Brett Favre as one of only two quarterbacks to beat all 32 NFL teams.

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"I think it just means I'm old," the Denver Broncos star said.

A few more games like Sunday night's and Manning surely will go gray.

Manning helped the Broncos take a 24-0 lead over his old team in the first half, but Denver's offense struggled to get first downs in the second, leaving the orange-clad fans at Sports Authority Field bolted to their seats with anxiety.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck, the quarterback who replaced Manning in Indianapolis, directed the Colts almost all the way back from a huge deficit, rekindling memories of a stunning comeback in the playoffs last season. In that wild-card classic, Luck and the Colts dug their way out of a 28-point hole in the second half to shock Kansas City.

"I watched that Kansas City game," said Bradley Roby, a rookie cornerback for the Broncos. "I was out there tonight thinking, 'This dude's doing the same thing again.'"

Close, but not quite. It was Roby who sealed the victory for Denver by breaking up a pass intended for Reggie Wayne on fourth and six from the Denver 39 with 1 minute 57 seconds to play.

The Colts had clawed their way back to within one score with fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 41 yards to Dwayne Allen and nine yards to Hakeem Nicks.

The game turned out to be a tale of two halves because the Broncos dominated the first two quarters, when their first four possessions ended field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.

With his three touchdown catches, tight end Julius Thomas trumped his performance in last season's opener, when he caught two of Manning's NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes.

Thomas, who played basketball but not football in college, tied a Broncos single-game record with his three touchdowns. It marked the 25th time Manning threw at least three touchdowns in the first half of a regular-season game.

"It's tough to cover a guy who runs as well as he does," said Manning, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

The Colts, who sacked Manning four times in his homecoming to Indianapolis last season, were glaringly shorthanded on defense. They were without linebacker Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks last season but now is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

The Broncos too were missing Pro Bowl players because of suspensions: receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater.

Without Welker, Manning turned to Emmanuel Sanders, at one point connecting with him on three consecutive plays. The former Pittsburgh receiver caught six balls for 77 yards.

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The best news for Denver was the play of its remodeled defense, which got nastier with off-season additions such as defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.

"We just knew that Luck was not going to give up," said Ware, the former Dallas Cowboys star who had 1 1/2 of Denver's three sacks. "There's not a time limit for him. He's a great quarterback, he can score some points, and he closed the gap on that game. … We lulled off a little bit in the third quarter, but we came back in the fourth and were able to close it out."

Coming up big for the Broncos was safety Rahim Moore, who picked off Luck passes in the first and fourth quarters.

Naturally, the Broncos weren't happy about allowing the Colts to claw their way back into the game, and they struggled to explain the disparity in the first and second halves.

"[They] started running a lot of hurry-up," linebacker Von Miller said. "To be honest, for me, personally, I just couldn't breathe for a little bit. I'm going to address that and get that fixed and get my conditioning up."

He wasn't alone. The crowd of 76,939 was holding its breath for much of the second half too, especially when the Colts successfully executed an onside kick and kept whittling down the gap on the scoreboard.

"Coach [Chuck] Pagano always talks about grit and fighting for one another, and that's what we did," Indianapolis defensive end Cory Redding said. "The plays they made in the first half were just too much to overcome. In the second half, we went out there and fought. We showed our heart."

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