There is little doubt that on January 11, 2015 the Indianapolis Colts notched their biggest win of the Andrew Luck era and quite possibly their biggest win as a franchise since the AFC Championship game in 2010. The team went on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs and defeated former quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 24-13 to advance to the AFC title game and give a signature win to both the season and the early start of the Luck era.
The Colts played a great football game on that day, but much of the conversation centered around Peyton Manning, who played as poorly in that game as I've ever seen him play. It was revealed shortly after what many who have watched him closely in the past and then this year thought, which was that he was playing injured. Manning was playing the game with a torn quadriceps.
Because of that, many have attributed the Colts win to the fact that Manning was playing injured, but at least one Colts player doesn't think that's fair. Safety Mike Adams, appearing on NFL Network recently, was asked about he remembered about Peyton Manning from that game.
"I remember how well we played as a defense," Adams replied. "A lot of the media talk was taking away from how well the defense played and saying ‘he was hurt' and this and that, but I think it was us. It was us as a defense and we went out there and executed our gameplan.
"Their game is about timing," he continued. "That's what they do; it's all based off of timing and we disrupted that. We got in his face and we did things that made him feel uncomfortable." When asked if the Colts defense just figured out Peyton Manning, Adams smiled and said, "absolutely."
There are two ways of thinking about these comments, and in reality, both of them are right. Firstly, had Peyton Manning not been injured, would the Broncos have won the game? Possibly, but it certainly would have been a lot closer regardless. Manning was missing throws that he doesn't often miss, and some of them weren't because of the defense.
But at the same time, what Adams said about the Broncos' offense and the Colts' defensive gameplan was absolutely correct. The Broncos' offense is all about timing, and just like the Colts did in 2013 when they beat a healthy Manning and the Broncos, the Colts focused on disrupting that timing. They focused on the short-to-intermediate routes, disrupting those, while daring Manning to beat them deep - something that the injured quarterback couldn't do and something that the Colts likely noticed on tape.
So ultimately, I think I'm with Mike Adams in that the Colts defense deserves a lot of credit for their performance against the Broncos, but at the same time, a healthy Peyton Manning would have at least made the game much closer, if not change the result. So you can see both sides of the issue, and both are true. The bottom line, however, is that the Colts won and notched a signature victory for the franchise under Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, and Andrew Luck. Hopefully, they build on that positive next season by taking it (at least) one step further.