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Broncos beat Patriots 26-16 for AFC crown

Sunday, January 19, 2014


The AFC Championship show in Denver was rightfully previewed as another edition of Brady vs. Manning on offense.  Perhaps though, the Broncos defense should have been included somewhere in the playbill?

Limiting New England to 119 yards and just six first downs in the first half, and completely shutting down what had been a bruising Patriot running game, Denver's defense led the way...and the offense seemingly never let the Patriot defense get off the field as Denver won the AFC title game 26-16 Sunday in Denver, CO.

Perhaps it was pre-game jitters, or maybe it was just well-played defense...but the Broncos held the Patriots without so much as a first down on the first two NE possessions.  Conversely, on Denver's 2nd possession of the game, Peyton Manning went to work on the Patriot secondary...finding DeMaryius Thomas for 29 yards over the middle on a 3rd-and-10 play, and Eric Decker for another 19 to the NE 10.  The defense stiffened to force a Matt Prater 27-yard field goal, but the Broncos struck first for the 3-0 lead with 3:43 left in the first quarter.

On the first play of the 2nd quarter, Ryan Allen punted deep into Denver's side of the field after an offensive pass interference call stopped a drive short...giving the Broncos the ball on their own seven.  But where the Patriots hoped to gain some field position, they could not as Denver methodically moved the ball to the Patriot 39.  Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 224 yards against the Pats in November, picked up 28 on another 3rd-and-10 play to the 11.  After a first-down rush to the one, Manning found Jacob Tamme alone in the end zone for the touchdown, capping a monster 93-yard drive in 15 plays, taking 7:01 off of the clock. 

The Patriots lost CB Aqib Talib to a rib injury on the drive, and the score made it 10-0 Broncos with 7:50 to play before the half...after their longest TD drive time-wise (at the moment) of the season.  Four 3rd down conversions against the New England defense along the way surely did not sit well on the Patriot sideline.

Or with Tom Brady.  But on a NE drive that reached the Denver 18, Brady was sacked by Robert Ayers, bringing on Stephen Gostkowski to salvage points on the possession.  He hit from 47 yards to put the Patriots on the board with 2:54 remaining, making it 10-3.  But Manning and the Broncos were far from through...converting on a 2nd-and-20 play to Thomas for a first down along the way.  Prater kicked a 35 yard field goal to put Denver back up by 10 at 13-3 with 25 seconds to play before the half.

It was the first-ever halftime deficit for the Patriots in an AFC Championship game appearance under Bill Belichick, as they had led at the half in each of their previous seven games (losing two).

On the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, Manning again controlled the tempo and the Patriots could not make a stop...marching the Broncos to the 15 yard line before the defense could catch its' breath.  Manning finished it off with a three-yard TD toss to Thomas to deliver a body-blow to New England's Super Bowl shot.  A 13-play, 80 yard drive (eclipsing 7:08, longer than the previous long drive of the season in the 2nd quarter) to open the second half wasn't exactly drawn up in the Patriot locker room at halftime...as the defense surrendered six first downs, which is what the offense managed against the Broncos in the entire first half.

The Patriots, however, won four games this season in which they trailed by double digits, a mark that was tied with the Broncos and Indianapolis Colts for the most such wins in the NFL.  Facing a 20-3 deficit with 7:52 left in the 3rd quarter, Brady began moving his team behind runs from Stevan Ridley, and short completions to Shane Vereen.  But on 4th and two at the DEN 29, Brady was sacked by Terrance Knighton...turning the ball over on downs with only 2:25 left in the period. 

Sensing a chance to put the Patriots away, Manning again hooked up with Thomas (7 receptions, 134 yards) on a 30-yard completion to the NE 19 as the quarter came to an end.  After hitting TE Julius Thomas for a first down at the eight, the Pats' defense held Denver to a Prater 19-yard FG...thanks in part to a couple of offensive holding penalties.  Still, the scoreboard read 23-3, with 12:02 to play. 

Brady got the Patriots to the Denver seven, after picking up a 4th-and-three on a completion to Vereen..and two plays later reached the end zone on a TD toss to Julian Edelman.  An 80-yard drive took nine plays and 2:36 from the clock, to make things interesting with 9:26 to go.  Prater did his part to keep the comeback from materializing, however, with a 54-yard FG for a 26-10 lead and 7:00 minutes left.  The kick was a big one.  Facing a Bronco prevent-defense that put seven defensive backs on the field, Vereen gouged the middle for two first downs, Brady hit Austin Collie at the 12 and two plays later ran it in himself from five yards out - but the two-point conversion came up short on a Vereen run. 

With 3:07 left, Denver's lead was 26-16.  Manning, who threw for 400 yards against the Patriot defense on the day, never let his QB rival get another shot.  After losing the regular season game in OT at Gillette Stadium, he was only too happy to share the spotlight with his defense.

Post Game Notes

The AFC Championship game was the first such game with both starting quarterbacks aged 36 or older (Brady 36, Manning 37)...the game was the 4th  time for Brady vs. Manning to take place in the post season, and in the three previous games, the home team won each time.  The winner also went on to win the Super Bowl...after punting on their opening drive, Denver scored on six straight possessions...the Patriots' 16 rushing yards in the 1st half is their fewest in any half this season. Previously, their fewest in a half was 19 in the 2nd half vs. the New York Jets in Week 2...the Broncos' opening drive of the 3rd quarter was their longest of the season (7:08). It was also the fourth straight possession that the Broncos scored on. Denver averaged 9 plays, 77 yards and 5:09 of possession on those four drives...through his third-quarter touchdown pass to DeMaryius Thomas, Manning was under pressure on only 3-of-32 dropbacks (9.4 percent). The defense with the lowest pressure percentage in the league was 21.6 percent of dropbacks (Jets)...Manning is now 7-11 against Bill Belichick in his career, his 2nd-worst win percentage against one coach (min. 5 starts).  He has a losing record against only TWO coaches, Belichick has beaten him more than twice as often as any other head coach...Brady started his first road playoff game since the 2006 AFC Championship on Sunday, and he has thrown one more touchdown than he has interceptions on the road in his playoff career...


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