3:00 PM ET, January 19, 2014
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
DENVER -- Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.
The connection: Flawless, as usual.
The keepsake: Certainly one he'll want to hang on to.
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• MacMullan: Lost chance for Pats
• Yates: Talib's injury was key
• Radio: Demaryius Thomas
• Betting: Broncos favored | Lines
• Quick Take: Broncos | Seahawks
• Radio: Mike & Mike weigh in
• Stats & Info: Keys to victory
• Super matchup | Super Bowl Central
• SN: Who wins Super Bowl? | Weather?
• Gallery: Title games in photos
• History: Previous AFC title games
The Broncos quarterback had an answer for everyone Sunday -- from Tom Brady to the New England defense to anyone who thought he couldn't win the big one.
Manning is taking the Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories -- this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.
Especially this time.
Only three years ago, he could barely grip a football as he started the long comeback from surgeries that ravaged his neck and nerve endings. And only 53 weeks ago, he suffered a devastating loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoffs that derailed what looked like a Super Bowl trip in his comeback season.
But Manning will get his chance for a second Super Bowl ring, after all. He'll try to become the first starting quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, who beat San Francisco 23-17 in the NFC Championship Game.
"He's been remarkable," said Broncos coach John Fox, off to his second Super Bowl as a head coach. "It's unprecedented what he did."
After packing away his football, Manning ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. A bit later in the locker room, he celebrated with his father, Archie, and brothers Cooper and Eli, the Giants quarterback who surprised Peyton much the way Peyton surprised him by showing up at the NFC title game two years ago.
The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against Brady, but is now 2-1 in AFC title games.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Brady said. "Certainly, he's a great player and he played great today."
Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it was more dink-and-dunk than a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment between the NFL's two best quarterbacks of a generation. Manning set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.
He geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: 93- and 80-yard touchdown drives that each lasted more than seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).
The Broncos held the ball for 35:44. They were 7 for 13 on third-down conversions.
"To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing," Manning said. "That's something you try to do when you're playing the Patriots."
Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
Manning Following in Elway's Footsteps
Peyton Manning will be the second-oldest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, trailing only Hall of Famer John Elway, who was 38 when Denver won Super Bowl XXXIII. It was the second Super Bowl victory and final game for Elway, who currently serves as the Broncos' executive vice president.
John Elway and Peyton Manning, Postseason Careers
-- ESPN Stats & Information
From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats (13-5), and they are not built for that -- at least not this year.
"We got in a hole there," Brady said. "It was just too much to dig our way out."
A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three games didn't have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.
"Losing is never easy," Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said. "But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it's a little bit easier to swallow."
The trip to New York, where it figures to be at least a tad cooler than Sunday's 63-degree reading at kickoff, will come 15 years after John Elway rode off into the sunset with his second straight Super Bowl victory.
The Broncos have had one close call since -- when they lost at home to Pittsburgh in the 2005 season's AFC title game -- but what it really took was Elway's return to the franchise in 2011. He slammed the door on the Tim Tebow experiment and signed Manning to a contract, knowing there were risks involved in bringing to town a thirty-something quarterback coming off multiple operations to resurrect his career.
Even without Von Miller on the field, Elway put enough pieces in place around Manning to move within a game of the championship.
"It's been a terrific group," Elway said as he hoisted the AFC championship trophy. "They worked their tail off all year."
Manning knows how to make the most of all the options he's been given.
This game started getting out of hand at about the same time Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went out with a knee injury. Nobody else could cover Thomas, and Manning, who finds mismatches even under the toughest of circumstances, found this one quickly.
"Talib's an excellent player," Manning said, "but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way."
Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards, including receptions of 26 and 27 yards that set up a field goal for a 13-3 lead before the half.
Denver got the ball to start the third quarter and Manning hit Thomas for 15 and 4 yards as part of the 80-yard, 7:08 touchdown drive that gave Denver the 17-point lead.
It was 23-3 before Brady began the comeback that came up short.
"Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning," Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said. "He's a smart player and able to make adjustments when he needs to."
New England came up a win short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
The thought this week was that Bill Belichick's team was playing with house money, having well exceeded expectations for a team that lost a number of stars -- Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski -- and has been plagued by injuries all year.
But a loss is a loss and facts are facts. Belichick is stuck on three titles and hasn't won one since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.
"There were a lot of opportunities in the game that, if we were able to coach better, play better, execute better in any of those areas, it would have given us a chance," Belichick said.
Manning said Belichick is the best coach he's ever had to go against. The quarterback insisted this week's showdown against Brady was more Broncos vs. Patriots than Manning vs. Brady. He lets others decide who's the greatest at this or that.
But he earned a chance to improve on his already-sterling legacy -- one that figures to leave him holding his fifth MVP trophy come Super Bowl week.
A win at MetLife Stadium in two weeks would put him in the same company brother Eli, along with Elway, Roger Staubach and a few others as a two-time Super Bowl winner.
Two weeks for Manning to prepare might feel like a lifetime.
At times, his long, difficult comeback has felt like a lifetime, too.
"We've definitely come a long way in two years," Manning said. "And bouncing back from last year's playoff loss to put ourselves in this position, it definitely feels very gratifying."
Initial X-rays done on Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno in the rib area were negative, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. Moreno left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter with a chest injury.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: A Denver Broncos fan arrives for their AFC Championship game against the New England...(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Team Stat Comparison
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
|Yards per play||5.7||7.1|
Yards per pass
Yards per rush
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||2-3||2-6|
|Defensive / Special Teams TDs||0||0|
|FG||3:48||Matt Prater 27 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 10 plays, 73 yds, 4:07
|TD||7:55||Jacob Tamme 1 Yard Pass From Peyton Manning (Matt Prater Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 15 plays, 93 yds, 7:01
|FG||3:00||Stephen Gostkowski 47 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 9 plays, 51 yds, 4:56
|FG||0:30||Matt Prater 35 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 8 plays, 63 yds, 2:29
|TD||7:55||Demaryius Thomas 3 Yard Pass From Peyton Manning (Matt Prater Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 13 plays, 80 yds, 7:08
|FG||12:07||Matt Prater 19 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 9 plays, 60 yds, 5:23
|TD||9:30||Julian Edelman 7 Yard Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 80 yds, 2:36
|FG||7:05||Matt Prater 54 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 6 plays, 39 yds, 2:26
|TD||3:13||Tom Brady 5 Yard Run (Shane Vereen Run For Two-Point Conversion is No Good)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 80 yds, 3:53
Peyton Manning had all day to throw, with New England pressuring Manning on 3-of-43 dropbacks (7%), his second-lowest percentage this season (Week 14 vs Titans, 5%) and the lowest by the Patriots defense. Manning completed 7-of-9 passes for 186 yards on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Manning's deep ball was much better Sunday than in his last meeting against the Patriots. The Patriots defense had one disrupted dropback (sack, pass breakup or interception), their fewest in a game since a 2010 Divisional Playoff loss to the Jets. Manning finished 8-of-8 for 116 yards and two touchdowns using play action on Sunday. All eight of Manning's play-action attempts were completed for first downs.[+]
Peyton Manning Passing At Least 15 Yds Downfield vs Patriots, 2013
The Patriots ran for 42 yards on 12 rushes between the tackles Sunday, their fewest since Week 2 vs the Jets. Over the last three games New England averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles. LeGarrette Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles after averaging 18.3 interior rushes for 130.0 yards per game since Week 16.
The Broncos averaged 8.9 plays per drive Sunday, their most this season. Only the Patriots in Week 11 (9.6) and Packers in Week 8 (9.1) averaged more plays per drive in a game this season. The Broncos had two touchdown drives Sunday, with the first taking up 7:01 of game time and the second taking up 7:08 of game time. Entering the game, the Broncos had only one drive lasting more than seven minutes (7:01), which occurred in the Divisional Playoffs against the Chargers.[+]
Broncos Drive Averages Sunday
New England's pass defense took a hit when Aqib Talib left the game in the second quarter with rib and knee injuries. Before Talib left the game, Manning was 9-of-14 (64.3 percent) for 125 yards (8.9 yards per attempt). After Talib exited, Manning went 23-for-29 (79.3 percent) for 275 yards (9.5 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns, including one stretch completing 19-of-20 attempts. Demaryius Thomas caught 7-of-10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. Thomas caught 4-of-9 targets for 41 yards in Denver's Week 12 loss to the Patriots, including a pair of drops (his only multi-drop game this season). In Week 12, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski finished with 7 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown while Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was inactive. Sunday, Thomas finished with eight catches for 85 yards and four first downs while Gronkowski was inactive.
The Broncos' opening drive of the 3rd quarter was their longest of the season (7:08). It was also the fourth straight possession that the Broncos scored on. Denver averaged 9 plays, 77 yards and 5:09 of possession on those four drives.
Manning is 7-7, 85 yards and 2 TD's when using play action today through the third-quarter touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have met before in the postseason, but this time Manning will be wearing a different uniform. The only instance in NFL history where Hall of Fame quarterbacks met in the postseason --- and then later faced off against eachother in a playoff game with 1 of them playing for a different team was between Joe Montana and Dan Marino. Montana (SF) and Marino (MIA) met in Super Bowl 19 as Montana's 49ers won, 38-16. The two Hall of Famers then met in the 1994 AFC Wild Card game as Marino's Dolphins defeated Montana's Chiefs, 27-17. It was the last game of Montana's career.
Through his third-quarter touchdown pass to D. Thomas, Manning's been under pressure on 3-of-32 dropbacks today (9.4 percent). The defense with the lowest pressure percentage in the league was 21.6 percent of dropbacks (Jets).
Tom Brady will start his first road playoff game since the 2006 AFC Championship on Sunday, and he has thrown the same amount of touchdowns as interceptions on the road in his playoff career.[+]
Tom Brady Playoff Career
Fixing Blount's numbers in second paragraph... --- New England's reliance on the run is new, but New England's success when rushing inside the tackles isn't. In the first 15 weeks of the season, the Patriots' 4.8 yards per rush average on inside rushes ranked sixth in the league. New England's 5.8 yards per interior rush since Week 16 trails only the Eagles (5.9). Most of the increased workload has gone to LeGarrette Blount, who tripled his interior rushes per game. Blount averaged 6.1 inside-the-tackle rushes per game in the first 14 games of the season, but 18.3 in New England's last three games.[+]
Patriots Rushing Inside The Tackles, 2013
The Patriots' 16 rushing yards in the 1st half is their fewest in any half this season. Previously, their fewest in a half was 19 in the 2nd half vs the Jets in Week 2.
Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme caught just his 2nd touchdown of the season in the 2nd quarter. His only other touchdown also came against New England in Week 12.
DEN Average Drive- 10 plays, 67.5 yards, 3.25 points NE Average Drive- 5 plays, 22.8 yards, 0.6 points
Peyton Manning is just 6-11 against Bill Belichick in his career, his 2nd-worst win percentage against one coach (min. 5 starts). He has a losing record against only TWO coaches, Belichick has beaten him more than twice as often as any other head coach.[+]
Peyton Manning Worst Win Pct vs Head Coach - Career Including Playoffs (min. 5 starts)
Since 2001 including the playoffs, when Denver has a time-of-possession advantage at home they are 49-12, and the Broncos are 22-26 when they don't.
ESPN Stats & Information