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Andrew Luck bests Peyton Manning; Colts to play Pats

The Colts limited Indianapolis legend Peyton Manning to 211 passing yards, upsetting the Broncos 24-13 to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Our takeaways:

  1. This performance rivals a 41-0 shutout loss to the Jets in 2003 for the least effective of Manning's illustrious 17-year career. Whether it's a tired arm or the lingering quadriceps injury draining his power, the five-time MVP hasn't been right since uncorking a career-high 155 passes over a three-game span from Weeks 9 to 11. The Colts took away the middle of the field, forcing Manning to loft a series of off-target floaters down the sideline. He finished just 6 of 21 on passes greater than five yards. Manning now has nine "one-and-done" playoff appearances, equaling the number of AFC Championship Games for Tom Brady. No other quarterback has lost his first game of the playoffs more than four times.
  1. Andrew Luck generated his usual share of "wow" throws, but this was a quintessential team effort. The offensive line nearly pitched a "Gholston" against Denver's ferocious pass rush, keeping Luck clean to the tune of zero sacks and four quarterback hits. The defensive effort was led by physical cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler, who smothered the Broncos receivers while erasing their trademark crossing routes and bubble screens. Davis played at a level on par with All-Pros Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis this season.
  1. John Elway spent the offseason building a backbone for a soft defense. He never imagined that Manning's aerial attack would devolve into the team's Achilles' heel by playoff time. Changes are horizon in Denver. Manning left the door open for retirement after the game. There are whispers of a shakeup on the coaching staff, with offensive coordinator Adam Gase taking over for John Fox. The best slot receiver of his generation, Wes Welker, has likely played his last down for the Broncos after losing his playmaking ability. Elway also has tough negotiations upcoming with free agents Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas.
  1. The Broncos bizarrely left Aqib Talib in man coverage on T.Y. Hilton as Luck exploited the mismatch. The box score doesn't reflect a dominant performance, but Talib was whistled for a pair of defensive holding penalties and got away with a few more. Second-team All-Pro Chris Harris has not only been the better player this season, but also has a skillset that matches up better with Hilton.
  1. We suggested a month ago on the Around The NFL Podcast that the Colts were obligated to de-emphasize Trent Richardson and Reggie Wayne for a legitimate shot at postseason success. Richardson was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career while Wayne was targeted on only one of Luck's 43 pass attempts. With the responsibilities of Dan "Boom" Herron, Coby Fleener and Donte Moncrief steadily increasing, this is a more efficient offense than the one that stumbled to the regular-season finish line.
  1. The Colts' victory sets up a rematch of the 42-20 Week 11 debacle in which Jonas Gray emerged from the margins of the Patriots roster to become a household name by rushing for as many touchdowns as the rest of the NFL that Sunday. The defense has stiffened since then with defensive end Arthur Jones healthy and rookie pass rusher Jonathan Newsome making plays, but this is still a matchup New England will look to exploit with a power-running game. Chuck Pagano's squad has faced two quarterbacks with a combined 13 postseason "one-and-dones." Now they draw Tom Brady, making his ninth start in an AFC Championship Game.
  1. Aaron Rodgers' preeminence prevents any talk of Luck taking hegemony over NFL quarterbacks, but this game certainly seemed like a torch-passing from one Colts great to another.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Divisional Round game and ranks the remaining quarterbacks still standing. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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