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Andrew Luck's rally falls short as Colts fall to host Broncos 31-24 in season opener

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DENVER — Andrew Luck nearly spoiled the party at Peyton's place.

However, fourth-quarter comeback No. 12 in the career of No. 12 fell just short.

Luck rallied the Indianapolis Colts back into the game — even made the Denver Broncos rely on their revamped defense to make one last stop — in a 31-24 loss in the season opener on Sunday night.

His predecessor in Indy, Peyton Manning, simply built too big of a lead for the Broncos, throwing three touchdown passes to tight end Julius Thomas.

Luck gave it quite a run, though. Trailing by seven points with the ball at the Denver 39, his fourth-down pass was swatted away from Reggie Wayne.

A valiant comeback in Manning's backyard.

"A loss is a loss," said Luck, who finished 35 of 53 for 370 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. "A lot of mistakes were made."

Still, he earned high praise from Rahim Moore, the safety who picked off two of Luck's passes.

"He's at the top of his game," Moore said. "When Manning retires, Andrew Luck, I believe, is going to take over the game. There's nothing he can't do. There's no throw he can't make.

"He has no weaknesses to me."

Entering this game, Luck had 11 winning drives in fourth quarters and overtime, the most through a quarterback's first two seasons since 1970. He looked poised to possibly make something magical happen again.

Down 31-10 with 9:54 remaining, Luck went to work — with the raucous crowd beginning to file out, thinking a win was in the bag.

What transpired left those that stayed in their seats bewildered.

Luck hit Dwayne Allen for a 41-yard TD pass. Moments later, he connected with Hakeem Nicks for a 9-yard score.

Just like that, a rout turned into a nail-biter that went down to the wire. The crowd exhaled only after Manning took a final knee.

PHOTO: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws under pressure from Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws under pressure from Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The Broncos insisted they didn't let their guard down, especially not after watching video of Luck leading the Colts back from a big deficit in a playoff win last season against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Playing against a great guy like Andrew Luck, and just the way he plays, you can't give up on him," said DeMarcus Ware, who finished with 1 1/2 sacks. "He's going to score points like he did. Got to put the clasp back on, be able to stop him.

"You're going to see that team probably later on in the season. They're good. They're a really good team."

Manning couldn't be stopped early, hooking up with Thomas for scoring strikes of 3, 35 and 5 yards — all in the second quarter. The Broncos led 24-0 with 1:57 left before halftime.

In the end, it was up to the Denver defense, which the team committed more than $100 million to bring in thumpers such as Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety T.J. Ward.

"Thank goodness our defense came up with some big stops," Manning said.

By beating his former team, Manning joined Brett Favre as the only QBs to earn a win over each of the current 32 NFL franchises.

"It means you have to be old," Manning said. "I don't think I'll have that one up on my mantle or anything like that."

This game featured so many missed opportunities for the Colts:

— Griff Whalen took a 92-yard punt return for a score early in the fourth quarter. The call was challenged and overturned when officials ruled his knee had touched down. Instead of six points, the Colts had the ball back at their 10 yard line.

— Luck was kept out of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal call in the third quarter.

— Indianapolis settled for a field goal after having a first down inside the 5-yard line.

"We had a ton (of missed opportunities)," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "You can't let those opportunities slip away."

NOTES: Colts LBs Cam Johnson (triceps) and Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) left the game. They will undergo MRI exams, Pagano said. ... WR Reggie Wayne had a 22-yard catch on the first play of the game. He has a reception in 191 regular-season games, moving him past Marvin Harrison for most in Colts history. ... The Colts were without starting center Khaled Holmes and backup tackle Joe Reitz, both because of ankle injuries. Luck was under constant pressure and was sacked three times. ... The Colts had won six straight over Denver, including Manning's homecoming game last October at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.


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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to throw against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
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