On Sunday afternoon the Denver Broncos suddenly found themselves one home win away from Super Bowl XL.
When the Steelers upset the Colts on Sunday, the Broncos avoided a third straight playoff trip to Indianapolis, where they have lost each of the past two seasons. Instead, they'll host the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh, the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.
The Broncos are 9-0 at Invesco Field at Mile High and showed why they have such a strong home-field advantage during a 27-13 AFC Divisional Playoff win against New England.
Crowd noise forced New England into some mistakes, and they were able to get some pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady because New England couldn't anticipate the snap count. The Broncos sold about 15,000 tickets for the AFC title game in less than a half hour on Sunday.
"They're the best," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said of Denver's fans. "You talk about having an advantage, you talk about having the 12th man. You look at the pressure we got on Brady and to have as many penalties as we did is a reflection on our fans."
The Broncos won't take Pittsburgh for granted, however. Pittsburgh has already won at Cincinnati and Indianapolis and plays the same hard-nosed, tough style of play that led Denver to a 13-3 record.
Even before the Broncos knew they would play Pittsburgh, tight end Jeb Putzier said the Steelers would be a tough matchup.
"If Pittsburgh goes in and wins, we got to be worried," Putzier said. "Because then something is going on with Pittsburgh."
Bailey's interception came in the third quarter, with New England trailing 10-6 but on Denver's 5-yard line. Bailey ran to the 1-yard line, but he was drilled by Patriots tight end Ben Watson. Bailey fumbled but fortunately for Denver it went out of bounds before it crossed the goal line. Denver scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Anderson on the next play.
The Broncos had trouble moving the ball the entire game. They rushed for 96 yards on 32 carries. But three Patriots fumbles and two interceptions by Tom Brady led to 24 points, and Denver's defense didn't allow a touchdown until a little more than eight minutes remained in the game and the Broncos already had a 24-6 lead.
--RB Mike Anderson didn't have a big game against New England, but he did grind out some yards in the fourth quarter. Anderson will be a key against Pittsburgh's tough run defense.
--QB Jake Plummer had to handle more of an offensive load than usual against the Patriots because the Broncos had a tough time running the ball. Plummer threw an interception but completed 15 of 26 passes for 197 yards and kept Denver's offense moving.
--CB Champ Bailey said he ran out of gas on his 100-yard interception return. He was caught at the 1-yard line and fumbled out of bounds. Bailey said he never saw Patriots tight end Ben Watson coming, but wasn't letting up before he got to the end zone. He said he ran out of steam at about the 30-yard line.
--P Todd Sauerbrun made one of the most important hits of the year for the Broncos. On a kickoff, Sauerbrun hit Patriots returner Ellis Hobbs and forced a fumble. Sauerbrun has had a solid season for the Broncos.
--WR Rod Smith had another big game against the Patriots. He had six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against New England, and was Denver's most consistent weapon.
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