While one game won’t reverse a legacy of postseason futility, the narrative has at least been suspended for a week.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has won his first playoff game since joining the Broncos in 2012, beating the Chargers 24-17 in Denver one month to the day after losing there on a Thursday night to San Diego — and one year to the day after an epic late-game collapse against the Ravens in the 2012 divisional round.
And so Manning will welcome Tom Brady and the Patriots to Denver, site of a postseason loss in 2005 that ended New England’s quest for a third straight Super Bowl win. Manning and Brady have met three times before in the playoffs, with Brady leading 2-1.
A win by the Broncos would pull Peyton and Brady even at 2-2; a victory by New England would square Brady at 3-3 in the postseason against the Manning brothers, thanks to a pair of Super Bowl losses to Eli.
Peyton helped the Broncos qualify for the AFC title game by holding the ball for the final 3:53 after the Chargers had narrowed the gap to seven with a field goal following the recovery of an onside kick. San Diego opted to kick away, and the strategy nearly worked. But Manning delivered on third and 17 with a 21-yard sideline throw to tight end Julius Thomas, who had found an empty spot in a Chargers secondary depleted by suspected concussions to Marcus Gilchrist and Jahleel Addae.
Manning converted another third and six with a throw to Thomas, and one more conversion on third and one via a Knowshown Moreno run allowed the Broncos to cement the victory.
Much like the Saints a day before in Seattle, who trailed 16-0 before waking up, the Chargers snapped out of a 17-0 funk to make the game interesting in the fourth quarter. In the end, Manning and company held off a team that wasn’t intimidated by playing the No. 1 seed on its own turf.
Now, the Patriots draw that same assignment next Sunday night for a chance to chase the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the stadium where Eli plays his home games.