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Sunday night wrap-up: Broncos hang on after hot start

Indianapolis Colts v Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 7: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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Maybe it was just 19 seconds, and maybe we’re making too much of this.

But sometimes, it seems like the only non-Seahawk who can slow down Peyton Manning is John Fox.

The Broncos quarterback was on fire in the first half, with 199 passing yards and three touchdowns as they jumped to a 24-0 lead on the Colts.

Then when the Colts scored just before halftime to cut it to 24-7, Manning ran out the clock rather than continue his video game-like roll through the Indy secondary before the break.

It wasn’t as devastating as Manning taking a knee in a playoff loss to Baltimore two years ago — they still beat the Colts 31-24 — but it still makes you wince a bit.

Fox is conservative enough to worry about what might happen if Manning makes a mistake, though he hadn’t made one to that point. But the way Manning was strafing the Colts in the first half, 19 seconds to field goal range was entirely possible.

When they came back in the second half, the Broncos offense lacked the same flair. Part of that was reasonable, given the big lead.

But after years of winning games without a quarterback as talented as Manning, you can tell sometimes that Fox still coaches like he’s got Rodney Peete under center.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. It seems strange to say, but the addition of DeMarcus Ware is almost easy to overlook for the Broncos.

His third-and-goal sack in the third quarter took the air out of the Colts, making them settle for a field goal.

Being able to add a pass-rusher of Ware’s caliber isn’t the kind of move a successful team is supposed to make.

But it’s crucial for the Broncos, since Von Miller’s still not ready to play a full-time role after his December ACL tear.

The Broncos defense as a whole stood up well, particularly while stuffing the Colts at the goal line in the third quarter. That stop, followed the next time by Ware’s sack, appeared to have ended any chance the Colts had to come back.

2. The Colts’ offensive line is kind of a mess.

With injuries keeping Khaled Holmes and Joe Reitz on the inactive list, they were forced to start A.Q. Shipley at center after he had been there a week. Guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season again, and they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for help.

Their only healthy backups are scrap-heap pickups Jamon Meredith and Lance Louis and undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison.

They’re fortunate that rookie Jack Mewhort has the kind of versatility to play four positions, but he can’t play them all at once.

With this week in the books, they should take a serious look at some of the unemployed veteran linemen, since their salaries won’t have to be guaranteed for the season.

They have a rare window with a good quarterback on a cheap contract, but if they can’t protect him or run at all, it won’t matter.

3. Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is going to be expensive.

The prolific pass-catcher had three touchdowns in the first half, not bad for a guy who made less than $38,000 this week (or, one-seventeenth of his $645,000 annual salary).

He can make an easy argument to be in the same ballpark as Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (even if his boss John Elway doesn’t think so) if he keeps this kind of pace up.

Granted, he only caught one pass in his first two seasons, but he now has 15 touchdowns in the 17 games since then, or only one short of Graham over the same span.

4. They were playing a pretty good quarterback, but the Colts looked like a defense that was missing its only reliable source of pressure.

Wait, that’s right, they were.

Without Robert Mathis, there was no pop to the Colts front seven, which was consistently walled off allowing Manning to do as he pleases.

They have to get through three more games of Mathis’s suspension, but they have to hope that 2013 first-rounder Bjoern Werner turns into something quickly.

5. It was not accidental that Luck’s first pass of the game went to Reggie Wayne.

The veteran wideout has made an impressive comeback from last year’s torn ACL, and looked like himself, catching nine passes for 98 yards He had to leave for a play in the third quarter when he slipped on the awful Denver grass, but was back a play later.

The Colts brought in Hakeem Nicks just in case, but it appears from a small sample size that Wayne is someone they can count on again.