1:01 AM CDT, October 21, 2013
He was the afterthought, the other guy, the quarterback who wasn't Peyton Manning.
But Sunday night, Andrew Luck was the man.
Luck threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to lead Indianapolis to a 39-33 victory over Denver, spoiling Manning's homecoming and again proving the Colts belong among the NFL elite.
Denver, Seattle and San Francisco are 17-1 against the rest of the league . . . and 0-3 against the Colts.
A loss by the Broncos (6-1) means Kansas City is the NFL's only undefeated team. The Colts improved to 5-2.
Manning, though visibly disappointed, handled the situation with his typical grace, staying on the field afterward to greet and congratulate his former teammates, coaches, and even security guards.
The packed house at Lucas Oil Stadium gave Manning an emotional standing ovation before the game, and a video montage celebrated the highlights of his 14 years with the franchise.
"There was a great reception from the fans, and I truly appreciate it," Manning said. "It's something I'll always remember, and I'm very grateful for it."
Asked if the distraction of the pregame ceremonies might have contributed to the Broncos' slow start, Manning said: "There's no question that was emotional during that tribute. I thought I came back pretty quickly and I was ready to play by kickoff. I felt probably a little tired coming into this week.
"I'm somewhat relieved this game is over, and I feel like hopefully we'll have a chance to play these guys again. Because that would mean we made the playoffs. We have a long way to go before then, but you certainly see them being in the postseason for sure. If there is a next time, maybe it will be a little bit easier."
The Broncos trailed by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter. It looked as if Manning might orchestrate one of his miraculous comebacks, but a key fumble by Denver's Ronnie Hillman near the goal line dealt a devastating blow to the Broncos' hopes.
Manning completed 29 of 49 passes for 386 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Luck connected on 21 of 38 for 228 yards, and added four runs for 29 yards.
The Colts' defense didn't hold back on their ex-quarterback. It was as if those defenders were finally making up for not being allowed to hit him in practice all those years.
Manning was sacked four times, harassed many more, and more than once had his arm hit while he was throwing. He was stripped of the ball in the second quarter and fumbled out of the end zone for a safety.
The New York Jets, who had lost six in a row to New England, beat the Patriots on Sunday on a do-over.
The Jets won in overtime, 30-27, on a 42-yard field goal by Nick Folk, who moments earlier had missed from 56 yards. An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on New England's Chris Jones provided the Jets with the mulligan.
Jones was flagged for pushing a teammate forward in an attempt to block the kick, a new rule this season. The Jets ran the ball three times, setting up the game-winner.
"I was like, 'You know what, it's about time we got a break,'" Jets Coach Rex Ryan said, smiling. "That's really what I was thinking. It just worked out."
The win denied the Patriots a second last-second victory over a Ryan brother. New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was burned by them in Week 6.
The Jets halted a 12-game winning streak by New England within the AFC East.
"Everyone has to look at themselves and do a better job," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said, "because what we're doing now isn't good enough."
Sunday night was about celebrating a quarterback.
Sunday afternoon was about celebrating over a quarterback.
That, at least, is what Carolina safety Mike Mitchell did, after dragging down Sam Bradford from behind as the St. Louis quarterback ran out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
As Bradford lay in a crumpled heap, rolling back and forth with a knee injury, a seemingly oblivious Mitchell threw his head back and arms out and yelled in celebration.
Both teams had their low points in the game, with the Rams being flagged five times for personal fouls, including the ejection of Pro Bowl defensive end Chris Long.
The Bradford injury was an ugly scene on an ugly day for quarterbacks, a brutal prelude to Manning's first return to Indianapolis.
Bradford, who was carted off to the locker room in the 30-15 defeat, was scheduled to have an MRI exam when the Rams landed in St. Louis. It was later reported the quarterback had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and would be lost for the season.
He wasn't the only quarterback injured Sunday. Chicago's Jay Cutler suffered a groin injury when he was sacked in the second quarter against Washington, the team-record 158th time he was sacked since coming to the Bears in 2009.
The Bears, with Josh McCown at quarterback, would lose, 45-41, when the Redskins' Roy Helu scored from three yards out — his third touchdown of the day — with 49 seconds to play.
"Every game is big, but we sure needed it after being 1-4," Washington Coach Mike Shanahan said. "You don't want to dig yourself a bigger hole."
As for McCown, who hadn't played since the 2011 season, he did a solid job. The Bears had 46 yards of offense in the first half — all but three snaps of it with Cutler — and 313 in the second.
"I didn't ask him what he liked, what he didn't like," Bears Coach Marc Trestman said of McCown. "I just called the plays according to the plan we had put together. I thought he functioned very well in the offense."
In the battle for first place in the NFC East, Philadelphia's Nick Foles left the game at the end of the third quarter with a possible concussion. He was sandwiched by Dallas defenders Jarius Wynn and George Selvie, and groggily walked off the field for an evaluation.
That opened the door for rookie quarterback Matt Barkley to make his NFL debut, and it was a rough one. The former USC standout, who entered with 9 minutes 25 seconds left, had three interceptions and a fourth that was nullified by a Dallas offside penalty.
"I was maybe a little too aggressive on some of those throws, trying to advance the ball down the field and help our team win," Barkley said. "I learned a lot today. I'll learn even more watching the tape."
With Michael Vick recovering from a hamstring injury, and Foles' status up in the air, it's unclear who will start Sunday at home against the New York Giants.
The Eagles have lost a franchise-worst nine in a row at home, with their last victory there coming Sept. 30, 2012, against the Giants.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, picked up their first road win of the season and are 3-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 2007.
A bad turn
In Houston's 17-16 loss at Kansas City, Texans Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing was carted off after suffering a serious-looking injury, later reported to be a broken left leg and torn lateral collateral ligament.
It happened when he was blitzing on a second-down play, with Kansas City seven yards away from scoring. Cushing charged in, and violently flipped over a low block by running back Jamaal Charles.
Cushing, a former USC star, saw his 2012 season end after a month when he suffered a torn ACL in the same knee.
San Francisco, which posted a 31-17 victory at Tennessee, is rolling again. In each of their last four games, the 49ers have scored at least 30 points. The last time they did that was 1998 (Weeks 12-15) — and they should continue the trend Sunday at Jacksonville. The Jaguars are giving up an average of 31.7 points, second-most in the league.
For the second consecutive week, Cincinnati's Mike Nugent won a road game with a field goal. His 54-yarder as time expired beat Detroit, 27-24, a week after his winning kick in overtime at Buffalo.
"I love how confident everyone is," said Nugent, whose 5-2 team leads the AFC North. "Nobody freaks out."
That's not to say the Bengals aren't sweating about the status of cornerback Leon Hall. He left the game early with an injured Achilles' tendon.
Tweet of the day
The Rams' Long, son of Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long, was ejected Sunday for his role in a skirmish with the Panthers. On his long walk to the locker room, the Carolina fans pelted him with insults and evidently more.
Tweeted Long: "Thanks Carolina fans 4 the flipped birds+few bottles to the head. Sticks n stones may break my bones but aluminum zimas will never hurt me."
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