INDIANAPOLIS — Rob Chudzinski spent most of this week tucked inside the Colts' team complex in search of answers.
Whatever the new offensive coordinator found worked.
Five days after changing play-callers, Andrew Luck looked like his old self, the Colts played like the contender they were supposed to be and their 42-year-old kicker made a 55-yard field goal with 6:13 left Sunday, giving Indianapolis a momentum-building 27-24 victory over Peyton Manning's previously unbeaten Broncos.
"I know they didn't leave the office. They all rose to the challenge. They came out going to get this done, no matter what," coach Chuck Pagano said. "The execution, swagger, all that stuff. Chud's one hell of a coach."
Chudzinski's philosophy certainly made a difference.
Luck made better use of his tight ends and finished 21 of 36 for 252 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He hooked up with T.Y. Hilton five times for 82 yards. Frank Gore ran 28 times for 83 yards and his 7-yard TD run provided the first points scored in the first quarter against Denver (7-1) all season. And Indy took its biggest lead of the season when it jumped to a 17-0 lead on Luck's 100th career touchdown pass.
"When you're down three scores, it limits what you can do," Luck said. "When you're up a couple of points, you can do a whole lot more."
Indy (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak, retained its lead atop the AFC South and ruined what was supposed to be a milestone day for Manning in his old building.
Manning was 21 of 36 for 281 yards with two TDs and two interceptions — with the second one allowing Luck to take the final 6 minutes off the clock.
Denver's quarterback fell 3 yards short of breaking Brett Favre's career record for yards passing (71,838) and left him in a tie with Favre for most regular-season wins by a quarterback (186). Manning is now 1-3 all-time against Indy and 0-2 at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the 39-year-old might have just played for the final time.
"We got beat by a better team today. The Colts played well," Manning said. "When you don't play as well as you'd like on the road, it's hard to win against good football teams. They are a good football team."
Luck broke the tie with an 8-yard TD pass to Ahmad Bradshaw early in the fourth.
The Broncos tied it again on Manning's 1-yard TD pass to Owen Daniels, but Luck drove the Colts for the winning field goal.
Here are some other things we learned from Sunday's game:
KEEP YOUR COOL: Denver could pin this loss on a lot of things. But the most glaring might be the flurry of penalties that kept Indy's last drive alive. The Broncos had four penalties on that last series, three of which led to automatic first downs. They included an unnecessary roughness call on Aqib Talib with 2:24 to go that wiped out what would have been a third-and-long and Danny Trevathan's holding on a field goal with 28 seconds left.
PLAY CLEAN: Indy has spent most of the season trying to clean up mistakes. Against Denver, the Colts finally did. For only the third time in nine games, they didn't have a turnover. And they finished with only four penalties. That allowed the Colts to keep the chains moving, which led to scores.
MANNING THE HELM: Manning wasn't himself in the first half when he was 9 of 22 for 80 yards. But there's little doubt he can still play at a high level. In the second half, he nearly produced another trademark comeback — until Darius Butler jumped in front of Demaryius Thomas and picked off Manning's final pass.
GETTING STOUT: Indy's defense also played better Sunday. It held the Broncos to only 95 yards in the first half when the Broncos ran only two plays in Colts' territory. They did give up some big plays in the second half, but they also came up with the interception that eventually put the game away.