LOS ANGELES, January 19, 2014 — The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning are headed to Super Bowl XLVIII after defeating the New England Patriots.
The AFC Title Game that football fans expected since the preseason never materialized. The names were expected. The Denver Broncos did host the New England Patriots. John Fox and Bill Bellichick did coach the teams. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did meet for the 15th time. While both teams took the field, only one of them showed up.
While Manning and Brady were expected to put on a pinball machine game, early on it was a punt fest. Late in the first quarter, Matt Prater hit a 27-yard field goal to give the Broncos the 3-0 lead. In the second quarter, Manning led a backbreaking 15-play, 93-yard drive that consumed seven minutes off the clock. A one yard touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme had the Broncos up 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
With three minutes left in the half the Patriots finally got on the board with a 47 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Manning led the Broncos back and with 30 seconds left in the half, Denver faced fourth and one at the New England 17. John Fox took no chances as Prater hit the 35-yarder to give the Broncos a 13-3 lead heading into the locker rooms at halftime. Manning had 214 yards passing in the first half.
Peyton Manning kept firing in the third quarter. With Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on the sideline with an injury, Manning picked the New England defense apart. Another seven-minute drive took 13 plays and moved the Broncos 80 yards, as Manning hit Denarius Thomas for a three-yard touchdown.
Midway through the third quarter, the Broncos had a commanding 20-3 lead. Tom Brady moved the Patriots to a critical fourth and two at the Denver 28 late in the third quarter. Bill Bellichick opted to go for it. Brady was sacked.
Manning kept slicing and dicing the helpless New England defense. Although on fourth and goal at the two, it was not what would the Fox say, but what would the Fox do? Coach Fox opted for the field goal and Prater made it 23-3 Broncos with 12 minutes left in regulation.
New England finally cracked the end zone in the fourth quarter, as Brady hit Julian Edelman for the nine-yard score. The Patriots still trailed, 23-10, with only 9 1/2 minutes left in their season.
The New England defense needed a stop, and for the sixth straight drive, none was coming. Midway through the fourth quarter, Fox trusted Prater with a 54-yard field goal knowing a miss would give the Patriots golden field position. Not on this day. Prater drilled it through the Mile High air for a commanding 26-10 Broncos lead.
Brady kept fighting, scoring himself with three minutes to play. The two-point conversion could have made it a one-score game, but a handoff saw Jack Del Rio’s defense stop the try cold. The onside kick never had a chance, and it this point, neither did the Patriots.
When the dust settled, Bellichick and Brady saw a ninth straight season end without a Vince Lombardi Trophy. The myth of Brady collecting trophies while Manning racked up statistics was shattered.
In this game, Manning statistically dominated, racked up the win and gave college students one more opportunity to imitate Manning’s cadences at the line of scrimmage by playing the “Omaha” drinking game. Manning finished 32 of 43 with exactly 400 yards passing, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
On the twelfth anniversary of the infamous Tuck Rule game, there was nobody to bail Brady out. He tucked his head down and ran off the field, barely managing a quick post-game handshake with Manning. Brady remains as ungracious in victory as in defeat, although Bellichick surprised everyone and gave Fox a lengthy hug after the game.
Denver Broncos President John Elway also saw history repeat itself. After his agonizing playoff loss as the favorite in 1996, he led the Broncos to the big game one year later. Last year his finest free agent acquisition, Peyton Manning, saw Denver suffer a gut-wrenching home playoff loss as the favorite. This year was sweet vindication as Manning has his second Lamar Hunt Trophy and a chance to earn another Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII. Final score: 26-16 Broncos