Denver was considered the underdog going into the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. People were expecting the Patriots offense to come in and put the Broncos defense on their heels a little bit behind the strength of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And as for the offense of the Broncos, everyone thought that this could be Peyton’s last game. But little did we know the Broncos would have something for the Patriots in Denver today. The Broncos held Tom Brady in check for most of the game and the offense was just effective enough as the Broncos won the game 20-18 and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl. And just like that, Manning plays on. For the Patriots, a season that started so well ends in the bitter taste of defeat. The Brady versus Manning battle actually proved to be much more than these two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
The big question all week for the Denver defense was how they would cover the Patriots in the passing game. The Patriots have one weapon that many have trouble covering in the NFL: Rob Gronkowski. The big tight end out of Arizona is a matchup nightmare with his size, speed and soft hands. Coming into this one, the Broncos were aware that he would probably get his. And pairing him with shifty wide receiver Julian Edelman could cause big problems for the Broncos because of all the rub routes and things the Patriots run. But the Broncos counteracted all the things the Patriots do in the passing game with their front four. Brady was constantly under pressure all game long and that was enough to force two interceptions and also 3.5 sacks in this game. It seemed like the Patriots offensive line had no answer for Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and the Broncos front line. And because of that, the timing was off in the passing game for the Patriots. Brady was not able to set his feet in the pocket a lot and was often running for his life. And that resulted in some inaccurate passes along with plenty of passes thrown away to the sidelines. The final drive was something that could have come back to get them, as they let up just a little and let the Patriots have a chance. But in the end, they turned it up one more time and forced Brady into a mistake on the two-point conversion, missing the opportunity to tie the game.
Offensively, the Broncos were not exactly the greatest all season. The running game was inconsistent and the passing game was not very dependable either. Despite people wanting to see Brock Osweiler and thinking Peyton Manning was done, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak went with the veteran Manning when it mattered the most. And so far, Manning has not disappointed him or the fans of the Broncos. Last week his wide receiver corps had a ton of drops and that almost cost them the game. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was a disappearing act in this game. And so far for the playoffs, he has only caught six passes for 52 yards and has scored no touchdowns. But when he did not show up, the passing game did not stall. Tight end Owen Daniels may not have put up big numbers, but he was big in the redzone for Manning. He caught two passes all game and both of them were for touchdowns. Manning hit Daniels across the middle off a blown coverage from the Patriots for the first touchdown of the game. And for Daniels second touchdown, Manning hit Daniels in the corner of the endzone, beating Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. The usage of Daniels was good early in the game and allowed the Broncos to open things up just a little offensively. The Patriots defense would only allow six more points the rest of the gsme. But with how well the Broncos defense was playing along with the running game getting going down the stretch of the game, Denver was able to hold the Patriots off.
The Broncos now go to where some had them at in the beginning of the season: the Super Bowl. And along with that, Peyton has a chance to cap off this season with a championship. If you take a look at the Broncos six weeks ago, no one would have saw this coming. Manning was out injured and Brock Osweiler was starting. And along with that, no one knew what to expect from this team as they tried to hang on and make the playoffs. Amazing how much things can change over a small amount of time. And now the Broncos will move on to the Super Bowl in what could be Manning’s swan song in the NFL. It will be interesting to see what they do on the big stage.