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The Chuck Pagano era has now seen four complete seasons in Indianapolis (and will surprisingly continue on), and it has been a successful era as the Colts have won 44 games including postseason matchups. No win has been bigger than the one they notched last season in the divisional round of the playoffs over the Denver Broncos, however.
After a wild card round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Colts took to the road to play the Broncos in Denver. Of course, the storylines abounded. It was the Colts facing the greatest player in their franchise's history for the right to go to the AFC Championship game. Andrew Luck versus his predecessor, Peyton Manning. It would either be the Colts traveling to New England for a massive showdown with the Patriots or the Broncos doing so to play another Manning vs. Brady title game.
Some Broncos players were already thinking ahead to what could be. The year before, the Broncos had faced the Patriots in the AFC Championship game and advanced to the Super Bowl. It could very well have been a rematch of that game once again... except for the Broncos actually had a game the week before that they needed to win first. It was a divisional round matchup with the Colts, who they had defeated in a close 31-24 game in week one.
With the Broncos getting ready to play in the divisional round game once again this year against the Steelers, some of their players took the time to reflect on last year's matchup and admitted that they overlooked the Colts.
"We were ready to go to New England," cornerback Aqib Talib said, according to the Denver Post. "When I look back on last year, there was a lot of, 'Next week when we go to New England we have to play (Rob Gronkowski) like this.' There was a bunch of future talk when we didn't even get the Colts yet. I think that was our biggest problem last year."
"Some guys, they kind of just put the Colts out of the way," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "We were worrying about who we were going to play next."
Of course, we all know what happened: the Colts played a very good all-around football game and won 24-13 on the road to knock the Broncos and Manning out of the playoffs and advance to New England for the AFC Championship game. While the latter game didn't go well for the Colts, the win over the Broncos on the road was still a huge accomplishment and one worth celebrating, as it was certainly the biggest win of the Chuck Pagano era.
Even though Broncos players said they overlooked the game, it doesn't mean they would have won had they focused on the Colts. This year, the Colts beat the Broncos 27-24 despite a rough year for Indy and despite Denver having the top-ranked defense, while in 2013 the Colts defeated the Broncos 39-33 in Manning's first return to Indy. In the Pagano/Luck era for the Colts and the Manning era for the Broncos, the two teams have played each other four times, and the Colts are 3-1 in those games. So even though the Broncos players overlooked the Colts last year, it doesn't mean they would have won - but it surely helped Indy's cause that the Broncos couldn't even focus on their playoff game.