The Denver Broncos are heading to Indianapolis with a quarterback that carries an 82-32 record in the city. He's 0-0 wearing a road uniform.
Peyton Manning returns to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night to face the Colts, the quarterback they replaced him with - and the owner who let him go - for the first time.
"I don't play there anymore, but I've continued to communicate and I've enjoyed those times when I see someone from Indiana in a hotel or an '18' Colts jersey out here at practice," Manning said. "There's always a connection there."
The remaining warmth between Manning and his former team was lessened leading into the game with Colts owner Jim Irsay questioning the team's playoff record during the Manning era. The Colts lost their first playoff game seven times in 11 appearances.
Manning's focus remained on the present when asked about the owner's comments.
"I've learned that in life you need to be at peace with other people's decisions that affect you that you have no control over," Manning said. "That's good advice I've had over the years and it's certainly served me well in this particular scenario."
Still, the team is planning what should be an elaborate pregame tribute to their former star, who was released in March 2012 after Irsay decided not to pay him a $28 million roster bonus. Now Manning will be facing the only team in the league he has yet to defeat in a game that has dominated NFL headlines all week.
Manning and the Broncos (6-0) will look to build on their team-best 17 consecutive regular-season wins after a 35-19 home victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. An 18th would tie them for third all-time with the 2003-04 New England Patriots. They'd be within five of Manning and the 2008-09 Colts' record of 23.
The 35-point output was their league-leading offense's lowest of the season. Manning went 28 of 42 for 295 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. It was his first game under 300 yards, and his 92.9 passer rating was his first under 100 this year.
Most quarterbacks and teams would be thrilled with such a performance.
"There was a lot of bad football out there," Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker said. "We've got to correct that stuff and come out better next time."
Welker caught his league-leading eighth TD of the year and is one away from his 2011 career high.
Tight end Julius Thomas is the only other player in the league with at least seven.
Manning is likely to face his toughest defensive test through the first seven weeks. The Colts (4-2) rank fifth in pass defense (205.7) and scoring defense (16.3). He might have to do so without starting right tackle Orlando Franklin, who sprained his left knee and ankle against Jacksonville. All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is already on IR with a foot injury.
The Colts' 19-9 loss in San Diego on Monday night was their worst offensive performance of the year as well. They had a three-game win streak snapped and missed out on a chance to build a two-game lead in the AFC South.
Andrew Luck went 18 for 30 for 202 yards with an interception. The Colts went 2 for 10 on third down after going 31 for 62 in their previous five games.
"We stunk on third down today," Luck said. "A lot of credit to their defense. I think we made our fair share of mistakes, but I think it's what they did. If we can't convert third downs and drives continually stall like that, it's a short rest for our defense and no points for us, so it's a bad combination."
Luck has never lost back-to-back games and is 6-0 following losses, but he's up against the team that has scored more points (265) through six games than any team in league history.
After the Monday night game, the Colts are on a short week, but they're eager to get back out there.
"I know it can't come quickly enough for all of us,' coach Chuck Pagano said.
The Colts are 9-2 under Pagano at home.
They'll be up against the Broncos' league-worst pass defense, which is allowing 337.7 yards per game.
That unit, though, should get a boost with the return of linebacker Von Miller, who had a team-record 18 1/2 sacks last year but missed the first six games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"I feel good. I'm in the best shape of my life," Miller said. 'I feel a lot stronger, quicker, faster. It's not like I'm running 100 yards or 400 yards there, so I definitely felt good. All the feedback I was getting from my teammates and everybody looked like I was good. There was a hurry-up period in there that was tough, but that's what it's designed to be is tough."
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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