AFC Championship Game: Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos beat New England Patriots
The Denver Broncos booked their place in the Super Bowl with a 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots.
Last Updated: 24/01/14 10:26am
The contest had been billed as a showdown between star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but it was a consummate team performance from the Broncos who racked up 507 offensive yards, did not turn the ball over and did not allow a single sack on Manning.
Indeed the winning margin looked like being even more comfortable as the hosts, who will play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, surged into a 23-3 lead, but a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns gave New England a glimmer of hope late on and added some respectability to the scoreline.
After a cagey start it was Denver who hit the front towards the end of the first quarter. Having found Eric Decker for an 18-yard gain to set up 1st and goal at the ten, Manning twice overthrew and the Broncos had to settle for a 27-yard Matt Prater field-goal.
With Brady failing to convert three of his first four third downs, Manning was back in possession at the start of the second quarter and orchestrated a 15-play, 93-yard drive that resulted in the opening touchdown.
A superb 28-yard run from Knowshon Moreno gave them real impetus and it climaxed with Manning rolling right off a play action before going back across the field to find a wide open Jacob Tamme in the end zone.
Brady then suffered the first of two sacks as he was taken down by Robert Ayers for a loss of 11, but the Patriots still managed to get on the board through a 47-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with a little under three minutes left in the first half.
But Denver still had time to respond in kind before half-time, Prater again splitting the uprights after a brilliant open-field tackle from Logan Ryan on Moreno narrowly prevented a first-down deep in New England territory.
Manning on song
The hosts picked up where they had left off in the third and moved into a 20-3 lead on the back of another back-breaking, clock-eating drive from Manning.
With New England having lost Aqib Talib to a leg injury, Manning was quick to use Demaryius Thomas who overwhelmed replacement Alfonzo Dennard and claimed the touchdown with a fine two-handed grab.
Desperately needing a score to get back in it, the Patriots opted to go for it on 4th and 2 on the Denver 39-yard line, but Brady was instead sacked for a second time as Terrance Knighton burst through - much to the delight of the home fans.
The Broncos added another Prater field-goal at the start of the fourth quarter after Julius Thomas dropped a fade in the end zone before Brady and his offense belatedly found some rhythm.
Following an 80-yard drive, Brady hit Julian Edelman with a neat throw for New England's first touchdown with 9:26 remaining to make the scoreline 23-10.
Denver responded by scoring for the sixth consecutive possession as Prater rattled over a 54-yard field-goal, but that ensured New England were still within two scores at 26-10 behind.
Brady claimed the first of them with three timeouts and a decent amount of time still remaining as he scampered over from five yards for his fourth career post-season touchdown, however, the game was all but up when Shane Vereen was held up trying to scramble over for the two-point conversion.
With an onside kick then failing to bear fruit, Manning and the Broncos were able to run down the clock with the quarterback sealing his third Super Bowl appearance at the home stadium of brother Eli.