By TOM JAMES
CNHI News Service
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Everybody expected a barnburner when the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos hooked up on national television Sunday night.
The 67,196 fans who crowded into Lucas Oil Stadium went home happy.
With quarterback Andrew Luck leading the way, the Indianapolis Colts outlasted the Denver Broncos 39-33 in Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis.
The Colts took a 26-14 lead into halftime thanks to three touchdown pass from Luck, one each to wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey (11 yards), fullback Stanley Havili (20 yards) and tight end Coby Fleener (8 yards).
Indianapolis also got on the scoreboard on a 27-yard field goal by Adam Vinateri and safety, which occurred when outside linebacker Robert Mathis strip-sacked Manning at the Denver nine-yard line and the ball went out of the left side of the end zone.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden tried to recover the ball for a touchdown but could not come up with it before he slid out of bounds.
Denver had taken a 14-10 lead with 11:56 left in the first half when Manning fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas in the back of the end zone. Thomas out reached Colts safety Antoine Bethea on the play.
The Broncos had taken a 7-0 lead with 8:16 remaining in the first quarter on a 17-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Eric Decker. The Manning-to-Decker combination had set up the TD with a 39-yard pass down the right sidelines.
Indianapolis added a 10-yard scramble for a touchdown by Luck with five minutes left in the third quarter and a 52-yard field goal by Vinatieri at the 12:59 mark of the fourth quarter.
Denver battled back on a 31-yard field goal by Prater with 0:42 left in the third quarter and a 31-yard touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas at the 12:11 mark of the fourth quarter.
The throw to Thomas narrowed the margin to 36-23. A fumble by Colts running back Trent Richardson deep in Indianapolis territory set up the Broncos third score of the second half, a one-yard run by Knowshon Moreno with 8:44 left in the game to bring Denver to within 36-30.
After an Indy punt, Walden hit Manning as he attempted to throw on first down and the pass was intercepted by inside linebacker Pat Angerer at the Broncos 20-yard line. Vinatieri booted his third field goal of the night, this one from 42-yards out with 5:57 left in the game, to push the Colts lead to 39-30.
Manning led the Broncos on a drive to the Indianapolis 3-yard line on throws to wide receiver Wes Welker. But running back Ronnie Hillman fumbled, which was recovered by safety Antoine Bethea. Walden forced the fumble on the play.
The Colts worked the clock on its next possession and punted the ball back to Denver with two minutes remaining in the game.
Prater's 47-yard field goal with 0:12 left in the game brought Denver to within 39-33, but that was close as the Broncos would get. Wide receiver LaVon Brazill recovered the onside kick and the Colts ran out the clock.