INDIANAPOLIS -- For Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, the goal never was outplaying Colts legend Peyton Manning or trying to compile statistics that would increase his popularity in the city where Manning put the NFL franchise front and center in the state that worships basketball.
While he respects Manning and all of No. 18's lofty accomplishments, Luck has one mission: winning. Period.
Indianapolis led 17-0 in the second quarter, but Denver rallied to tie the game 17-17 in the third quarter and 24-24 in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri's 55-yard field goal with 6:13 remaining gave Indianapolis a three-point lead. The Colts drove 33 yard in seven plays, setting up the go-ahead score.
Reserve cornerback Darius Butler intercepted a Manning pass 13 seconds later, and Denver (7-1) never got the ball back.
Luck, who took over under center in Indianapolis after Manning was released following the 2011 season, completed 21 of 36 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
Indianapolis improved to 4-5, breaking a three-game losing streak and taking sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
"Finally, we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot," said Luck, who struggled with turnovers and sacks during the first eight games of the season. "The defense and special teams were great complementary pieces today. And for once we weren't down three scores, which limits what you can do offensively.
"We know we have the pieces to be a great team, and today, we made some passes, were consistent and got lucky with a couple of dropped (potential) interceptions. We all needed a win after all that has happened, so this was almost like a one-game playoff. Everybody did a great job blocking out all the situations we had going this week."
Manning finished 21 of 36 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and two costly interceptions. Manning needed 284 passing yards to pass Brett Favre's NFL career record and needed one victory for his 187th, which also would break the all-time record set by Favre.
"When you don't play as well as you would like, it's hard to win on the road," Manning said. "We just didn't play well enough."
The victory, especially considering the Colts replaced offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton with associate head coach Rob Chudzinski on Tuesday after losing on Monday night in overtime at unbeaten Carolina, was special to head coach Chuck Pagano.
"This was a great team victory," Pagano said. "Peyton played great, but I am so proud of our guys. They never quit. They played 60 minutes. I love this team. Andrew played lights out, and we ran the ball well. Guys made plays. It was just a matter of time before this team was going to turn it around.
"The mission is to start like we finish. We needed a 60-minute game, not just a great finish. The guys came out with a ton of energy. We weren't able to put in a whole new offense (after the Hamilton change). It wasn't different. The guys played fast, and we ran the ball effectively. We didn't have penalties or turnovers. Everybody rose to this challenge, and we played with a swagger and lots of confidence."
The Broncos tied the game at 24 with 8:54 to play on Manning's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels, capping a nine-play, 80-yard drive. Manning completed a 27-yard pass to Daniels and a 17-yarder to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during the drive. A pass-interference penalty against Colts cornerback Greg Toler in the end zone set up the scoring pass to Daniels.
But it was not enough.
"We were just out of whack," said Broncos safety T.J. Ward. "It wasn't the scheme that got us. It was assignment errors and penalties."
Indianapolis took a 24-17 lead with 14:05 remaining in the fourth quarter on Luck's 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Luck's 38-yard completion to wide receiver Griff Whalen gave the Colts a first down at the Denver 13-yard line. The drive covered 80 yards in 12 plays.
Denver pulled even at 17 with 4:57 left in the third quarter on kicker Brandon McManus's 29-yard field goal.
Manning's 37-yard pass to Daniels gave the Broncos a first down at the Colts' 18-yard line.
The Broncos got right back into the game on Manning's 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a third-and-14 play with 11:27 remaining in the third quarter, slicing the deficit to 17-14.
Backup free safety Omar Bolden returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown on the first half's final play, injecting life into a Denver team that sputtered offensively throughout the first 30 minutes.
Bolden's return down the right sideline sliced the Colts' lead to 17-7.
Indianapolis took a 7-0, first-quarter lead on Frank Gore's 7-yard run, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive that included a 28-yard pass from Luck to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton that moved the ball to the Denver 35. It was the first offensive touchdown allowed in the first quarter by the Denver defense this season.
Indianapolis increased its lead to 10-0 in the second quarter on Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal, capping a 63-yard drive that included a face mask penalty against Denver that placed the ball at the Broncos' 34.
Colts safety Mike Adams' interception of Manning at the Indianapolis 37 set up a touchdown that extended the Colts' lead to 17-0. Luck completed a 30-yard pass to Hilton and a 19-yard pass to Gore, setting up a 3-yard TD pass to backup tight end Jack Doyle.
NOTES: Colts' SS Mike Adams sustained a right ankle injury with 10:55 remaining in the second quarter while intercepting a Peyton Manning pass. He did not return ... Denver LB Brandon Marshall left the game briefly in the first half, was evaluated for a concussion and returned to the game ... Colts DT Henry Anderson sustained a third-quarter knee sprain and did not return ... Denver PR Omar Bolden's 83-yard punt touchdown is the seventh-longest in franchise history. Darrien Gordon's 94-yard return on Sept. 14, 1997, against St. Louis is the longest ... Denver LB DeMarcus Ware left the game in the third quarter with a back injury. He recorded a first-half sack and has 133.5 for his career, moving into 10th place on the NFL's career list.