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LOS ANGELES, USA – Peyton Manning won the 17th round of his epic rivalry with Tom Brady as the Denver Broncos reached the Super Bowl on Sunday with a defense-dominated 20-18 victory over the reigning champion New England Patriots.
Manning threw for two first-half touchdowns as Denver’s formidable defense withstood a thrilling late rally from the Patriots, which saw them come within a missed two-point conversion of forcing overtime.
Ultimately a missed extra point conversion by Patriots kicker Steven Gostkowski early in the game proved decisive, leaving New England needing to make the two-pointer after Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski to score a touchdown with 17 seconds left to make it 20-18.
But Denver’s NFL-best defense held firm to settle an absorbing American Football Conference championship decider at Mile High Stadium.
The victory ended Brady and the Patriots’ hopes of winning back-to-back Super Bowls while Manning will now head to San Francisco on February 7 aiming to win the second championship of his career at the age of 39.
The pre-game hype had focused around the contest between Manning and Brady, the most successful quarterbacks of their generation with five Super Bowl titles between them.
But until the late fourth-quarter rally, the duel between the two never fully materialized as defenses on both sides came to the fore, with outside linebacker Von Miller outstanding for the Broncos.
Brady and Manning were sacked for a combined 7 times — the highest number of sacks in any meeting between the two legends.
Denver’s defense took a vice-like grip almost from the outset, forcing the Patriots to punt on each of their first 3 possessions as Brady struggled to gain any sort of foothold in the game.
The Broncos, by contrast, scored off their first possession, Manning marching his team upfield on an 83-yard drive that culminated with the Denver quarterback connecting with Owen Daniels for a 21-yard touchdown.
The Patriots managed to stay in touch and scored when running back Steven Jackson barreled over for a one-yard touchdown.
Crucially however, Gostkowski shanked his extra point attempt, only the second fluffed shot at goal of his career and his first since 2006.
Denver’s iron defense then forced another error, a flustered Brady seeing his attempted pass to Gronkowski picked off by Miller to give Manning another prime scoring position.
Manning didn’t disappoint, finding Daniels for his second touchdown of the game with a perfectly flighted 12-yard pass to the back of the end zone to take it to 14-6.
Another Brady sacking forced the Patriots to settle for a 46-yard field goal from Gostkowski, who atoned for his earlier miss by ramming it straight down the middle for 14-9.
Brandon McManus restored Denver’s 8-point lead with a 52-yard effort late in the second quarter which made it 17-9 at the half.
A further Gostkowski field goal early in the third quarter put New England back to within five points at 17-12 but with Denver’s defense dominant the Patriots still struggled to generate much on offense.
Another McManus field goal put Denver 20-12 ahead and left the Patriots needing to overturn an 8-point deficit.
Twice in the fourth quarter, the Patriots attempted and failed to make fourth down conversions as they chased a second touchdown before Brady’s late drive resulting in a Gronkowski touchdown set up the finale. – Rappler.com