The Broncos brought quarterback Peyton Manning to Denver in hopes of winning a Super Bowl title and Manning is one win away from reaching that goal after a 26-16 victory over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Manning guided an offense that picked up 507 yards of total offense and scored points on six straight drives after opening the game with a punt on their first drive. Manning completed 32-of-43 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns to more than do his part in getting the Broncos to his brother Eli’s stomping grounds in two weeks time. It’s the second time that Manning has overcome a Tom Brady-led Patriots team in the conference title game and he’s now in position to win a Super Bowl ring with his second team — joining former Bronco Craig Morton as starters for two different Super Bowl teams — and put one more gigantic stamp on one of the best years by a quarterback in the history of the NFL.
The Patriots really missed cornerback Aqib Talib, who left with a knee injury in the first half, but the Broncos were having success before he left and they executed well on just about every snap. The offensive line kept Manning’s pocket clean, the running game picked up yards when called upon and the Patriots couldn’t find an answer when they needed one to climb back into the game in the second half.
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had never beaten a Brady-led Patriots team as a coach in either Jacksonville or Denver, but that changed on Sunday with a terrific performance by his unit. Robert Ayers and Terrance Knighton came up with huge sacks and Shaun Phillips stopped Shane Vereen short of the end zone on a late two-point conversion try that would have made it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter.
Two scoring drives late in the game left the Patriots looking a bit more respectable, but they struggled to pick up first downs for the first three quarters and Brady missed too many of the rare targets left wide open by the Broncos defense over the course of the game. Their last gasp effort was too little and much too late to derail the Broncos, which was a nice change for the Broncos after their first meeting with the Patriots this season.
Now they just need to find out who they’ll be playing in the seventh Super Bowl trip in franchise history.