Broncos vs. Colts score: Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson stumble as Indianapolis barely wins ugly defensive battle

Broncos vs.  Colts score: Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson stumble as Indianapolis barely wins ugly defensive battle

The Broncos and Colts each entered Thursday night’s AFC showdown battered and bruised, with little offense to show for it. And boy did they keep that up in their prime-time “competition.” Injuries, three-and-outs and forced throws headlined the ugly contest, with Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan taking turns seemingly trying to outdo each other in negative plays. The back-and-forth was so brutal, it turns out, that neither side could reach the end zone in four quarters, combining for six field goals to deadlock in a 9-9 tie that necessitated overtime. The Colts proceeded to win the coin toss, add another field goal, and stuff Denver on a fourth-and-1 in the red zone to secure the 12-9 victory.

The Broncos previously entered halftime up 6-3 thanks to a pair of Brandon McManus field goals, but both teams went into the break — and then later overtime — looking, frankly, like losers. Indy’s win improves the team to 2-2-1, while Denver falls to 2-3 on the year with the defeat. But both teams still have major questions to answer moving forward.

Here are some takeaways from Thursday’s sloppy showdown:

Why the Colts won

It wasn’t because they played a complete game, or anything resembling one, that’s for sure. Ryan was hooting and hollering on his way into the locker room after getting the win, no thanks to him or basically the entire Colts offense. Ryan, 37, looked every bit his age flailing around a collapsing pocket, taking a beating that included six sacks and plenty more hits. It’s a wonder he was still standing upright to lead the go-ahead drive in OT. But give credit to Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr., who made the most of the oft-suspect throws Ryan sent their direction. And definitely give it to the defense, which was without Shaquille Leonard but absolutely manhandled whatever Denver was doing with the ball in its hands. DeForest Buckner led the way up front, headlining a four-sack effort that also pressured Wilson into a pair of rookie-esque interceptions. But the entire “D” stepped up when it mattered most, forcing the Broncos into an 0-for-4 finish in the red zone.

Why the Broncos lost

That superstar QB they traded for, and gave $235 million? Yeah, he just might be broken. Wilson once again showed life at the last second, nearly guiding Denver to a come-from-behind OT win, but for the preceding four quarters, he operated like one of the most uncomfortable, inaccurate starters in the NFL. Gone was almost any inclination to push the ball downfield, despite another stellar effort from Courtland Sutton. Gone was most pocket awareness, hence the four sacks, absorbed at inopportune times. And gone was the clutch decision-making, with Russ most egregiously forcing two throws — one deep, one in the end zone — that wound up picked. Denver’s defense wiped the floor with Ryan, nearly winning the game on its own accord despite losing veterans like Josey Jewell to injury. But yet again Nathaniel Hackett’s unit could not function cohesively. Mike Boone showed playmaking ability in place of Javonte Williams, but it didn’t matter once they sniffed the end zone.

Turning point

The moment the game kicked off, seeing as it guaranteed 60+ minutes of preseason-quality football? No, you might look instead at Hackett’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1, with 2:38 to go in OT, and the Colts fresh off a field-goal drive. The coach could’ve played it safe and trotted McManus back out for another field goal of his own, playing for a 12-12 tie and hoping Indy botched its next possession. But he kept Russ on the field, surely cognizant of his failure to trust the star QB in the team’s Week 1 prime-time loss, and dialed up a pass. Wilson promptly chose to fire into traffic, and Indy easily deflected the ball to seal the victory.

Play of the game

It’s fitting that the most exciting play of this game came on what very nearly could’ve been the blunder of the game: Sutton’s 51-yard deep catch, which he had to wrestle away from his own teammate. Wilson had tons of trouble pushing the ball downfield against Indy, but Sutton showed elite concentration and hands to help his QB out in the third quarter, going up and over rookie counterpart Montrell Washington to secure the play. Too bad it came in a losing effort.

What’s next

The Broncos (2-3) will hit the road on Oct. 17 for a matchup with the rival Chargers (2-2) on “Monday Night Football.” The Colts (2-2-1), meanwhile, will return home for a rematch with the rival Jaguars (2-2), who shut them out 24-0 in Week 2.

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