91 percent of the money bet in this AFC Championship game was bet on the New England Patriots. Of nine NFL Network analysts, only one picked the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning was done. There was no chance, until there was.
The Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 in a classic game that has the mark of every other game the Broncos have won this year. The offense struggled, the chips went down, but the once again they proved to be the most mentally tough team in football, stopping a two-point conversion on their way to San Francisco.
However, the Broncos seemed to flip that script at the beginning of the ballgame. Manning and the Broncos offense looked sharp in the first two frames. Two touchdown passes to Owen Daniels gave the dominant Denver defense a chance to play with a lead for the first time since their week eight victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The Broncos dominant pass rushers pinned their ears back and get after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. They sacked the future Hall of Famer four times. They hit him a record 23 times. Linebacker Von Miller played perhaps the best game of his career, sacking Brady 2.5 times and picking off a pass inside the New England 20-yard-line.
A Denver turnover led to a New England touchdown, but a missed New England extra point helped the Broncos to a 17-9 lead at the halftime break. That missed PAT would come back to haunt the Patriots.
“Touchdown Tom” is never one to be counted out. After a slow third quarter, Brady and the Patriots offense caught fire. Rob Gronkowski, who would finish the day with eight catches for 145-yards and a touchdown, beat a Denver defense who had lost both starting safeties, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward.
Gronkowski caught a floating Brady touchdown pass that, had Gostkowski converted on the earlier extra point attempt, would have tied up the game. Instead, a trip to Super Bowl 50 came down to one final two-point conversion.
As they had nearly every week this year, the Denver Broncos defense came through, forcing an interception and punching their ticket to Super Bowl 50.
There are moments and memories from this game that will last for decades. However, the lasting one very well may come from the five-time NFL MVP. Manning, who has faced criticism throughout his career for not being willing to sacrifice his body, did just that, desperately scrambling for a first down in the third quarter to keep the Denver drive alive and flip field position.
It was a play that personified this team’s mental toughness, and the battle that Manning himself has fought throughout this season.
After the game, head coach Gary Kubiak reflected on his team’s season.
“We just grind as a football team,” Kubiak said. “We were able to find a way to battle and come away with a very tough victory.”
After taking a knee on Denver’s final possession, Peyton Manning was visibly moved by the moment, perhaps for the first time in his career. If it isn’t his last home game as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, it certainly felt like it.
“It’s been a special four years playing here in Denver for these great fans,” a teary-eyed Manning said. “To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special.”
The Broncos will almost certainly be underdogs in the big game two weeks from now. Just like they were in this AFC Championship game, just like they were at many times during the season, and just like their quarterback has been during the last two years.
However, this Denver Broncos team has fight. They have mental toughness. The Sheriff has one more rodeo.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.