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Broncos to play on Super Bowl Sunday

Denver beats New England 26-16

Posted: January 19, 2014 7:16 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2014 7:16 p.m.

From left, Peyton Manning, John Fox and John Elway celebrate the Broncos' AFC Championship victory on Sunday in Denver.

 

DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.

The connection: Flawless, as usual.

The keepsake: Certainly one he’ll want to hang on to.

The Broncos quarterback had an answer for everyone Sunday — from Tom Brady to the New England defense to anyone who thought he couldn’t win the big one.

Manning is taking the Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories — this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC title game.

“Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there,” Manning said.

Especially this time.

Only three years ago, he could barely grip a football as he started the long comeback from surgeries that ravaged his neck and nerve endings. And only 53 weeks ago, he suffered a devastating loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoffs that derailed what looked like a Super Bowl trip in his comeback season.

But Manning will get his chance for a second Super Bowl ring, after all. He’ll try to become the first starting quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle or San Francisco, who played later Sunday for the NFC championship.

“He’s been remarkable,” said Broncos coach John Fox, off to his second Super Bowl as a head coach. “It’s unprecedented what he did.”

After packing away his football, Manning ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. A bit later in the locker room, he celebrated with his father, Archie, and brothers Cooper and Eli, the Giants quarterback who surprised Peyton much the way Peyton surprised him by showing up at the NFC title game two years ago.

The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against Brady, but is now 2-1 in AFC title games.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Brady said. “Certainly, he’s a great player and he played great today.”

Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it was more dink-and-dunk than a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment between the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of a generation. Manning set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.

He geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: 93- and 80-yard touchdown drives that each lasted more than seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).

“To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing,” Manning said. “That’s something you try to do when you’re playing the Patriots.”

Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

In the game, Valencia graduate Shane Vereen led the way for New England’s backfield. The third-year veteran rushed for 34 yards and four carries and hauled in five receptions for 59 yards.

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