DENVER - Peyton Manning had an answer for everyone. What's new?
For Tom Brady. For the New England defense. For anyone who thought he couldn't win the big one.
Manning is taking the Denver 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.
Less than three years after being unable to throw a football because of his surgically ravaged neck and nerve endings, Manning will get a chance for his second ring. He'll try to become the first quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle or San Francisco, who play later Sunday for the NFC championship.
"It's very rewarding when you put a lot of hard work into the offseason and the regular season and it pays dividends with a huge win," Manning said.
After taking the final knee, Manning stuffed the football in his helmet and ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with New England Quarterback Tom Brady. The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against New England's QB but 2-1 in AFC title games.
"Great team, great coach, great quarterback, great players," Manning said of the Patriots, who fell a win short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year. "It feels great to get this win."
-- Reaction from Broncos Head Coach John Fox
“[Peyton Manning has] been remarkable… it was a very unusual injury he was coming off of… to have the kind of season he’s had is pretty remarkable,” Coach John Fox said after the game.
“You gotta win in the trenches and not turn the ball over. I think it was a clean game on both sides,” said Fox.
“Jack Del Rio stepped in and did a great job,” Fox said. “Just standing here feels pretty good, because I almost wasn’t.”
"I feel very blessed," said Fox.
-- Reaction from Quarterback Peyton Manning
Manning: "It is certainly very rewarding when you put a lot of hard work into an offseason, into a regular season and it pays dividends with a huge win, winning the AFC Championship today."
"This team has been through a lot, we've overcome a number of obstacles this year, so it has been very gratifying to be part of this team," Manning continued. "We have kept our nose to the grindstone, we kept persevering, and it felt good to get this win today."
After winning the AFC Championship, Manning said, “You have to take a moment to celebrate with your teammates, celebrate with dinner with your family.”
"I’m certainly happy for Champ [Bailey] – like I said, it’s hard to get to the Super Bowl. He played well today. I’m glad he’s back on the field,” said Manning.
-- First quarter recap
The Patriots failed to score on their opening drive after Brady's pass intended for wide receiver Austin Collie missed the mark.
Broncos forced a three and out on the Patriots.
The Broncos picked up a pair of first downs but their first drive stalled at the 38 and they were forced to punt.
The Patriots failed to score on their second drive after a hand off to running back LeGarrette Blount was brought down by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and Tony Carter broke up pass from Brady to wide receiver Matthew Slater, forcing the Patriots to punt on 3rd down.
Decker called for and made the fair catch.
Peyton passed to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 29 yard gain, putting the ball at the 29 yard line in Patriots territory. Manning then passed to Eric Decker for a 19 yard gain before Decker was tackled by defensive back Devin McCourty. That put the Broncos at first and goal. But after two failed passes intended for Julius Thomas and Decker, Prater successfully attempted a 27-yard field goal. That makes the score 0-3 Broncos.
Brady completed a pass to running back Shane Vereen, putting the Patriots at 1st and 10. Brady missed a pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman, but Edelman caught the very next pass. Brady passed to Edelman again, without much success, as the Patriots tried to determine who corner back Tony Carter was guarding.
Brady completed a pass to Edelman for a 4-yard gain but was brought down by corner back Champ Bailey.
The score remained 0-3 Broncos at the end of the first quarter.
-- Second quarter recap
Manning passed to rookie running back Montee Ball, who was brought down by cornerback Kyle Arrington after a 12-yard gain, putting Denver at 1st and 12. A pass intended for Decker was incomplete, followed by another incomplete pass, this time intended for wide receiver Wes Welker. Moreno gained 28 yards on a rushing play, putting the Broncos at 1st and 10.
After a few hand offs to Ball, it was a one-yard pass from Manning to tight end Jacob Tamme that finally got the Broncos into the end zone. Prater scored the extra point, making it 0-10 Broncos.
In the Patriots next drive, Brady completed a pass to Vereen but was taken down by safety Mike Adams, putting the Patriots at 1st and 10. After a successful handoff to Blount, Brady completed a pass to tight end Hoomanawanui Michael. With the Patriots 2nd and 20 at Denver's 20, Trevathan brought down Edelman. The runner was ruled down by contact, with the Patriots 3rd and 8. Brady was then sacked by defensive end Robert Ayers, forcing the Patriots to kick a field goal. The score is 3-10 Broncos with just under 3 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
Once the Broncos were back in possession of the ball, Manning marched his team down the field with five successive passes. Moreno caught the pass from Manning, but didn't get the first down. The Broncos settled for a field goal.
-- Third quarter recap
The Broncos started the third quarter 1st and 10 at the 20 yard line. A handoff to Moreno led to a one-yard gain, followed by a series of small gains as the Broncos slowly grinded down the field. Manning threw a 3-yard pass to D. Thomas for the touchdown. Prater attempted the extra point and it was good, bringing the score to 3-20 Broncos.
The Patriots were 1st and 10 at the 50 yard line when Brady couldn't complete a pass to wide receiver Aaron Dobson. Brady connected with Vereen, who was then brought down by Trevathan. Brady went for the quarterback sneak, but was tackled by Travathan after a 2-yard gain. After a successful hand off to running back Stevan Ridley, Ridley was pushed out by safety Duke Ihenacho. Brady then attempted a pass to Vereen which was ruled incomplete. The drive ended with Knighton sacking Brady.
The ball was at the 12-yard line when the quarter came to an end.
-- Fourth quarter recap
After two holding penalties by the Broncos during the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Manning threw a shovel pass to Julius Thomas for a 1-yard gain. That brought the Broncos to the 1-yard line on their 3rd down. The Broncos went for the field goal, and Prater's kick was good, bringing the score to 3-23 Broncos.
Broncos corner back Tony Carter left the game with an upper body injury. Corner back Kayvon Webster was brought in to fill Carter's position.
Over the course of nine plays, Brady led the Patriots down the field, then nailed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Edelman. The kick was good for the extra point. Score: Patriots 10, Broncos 23.
Wide receiver Trindon Holliday caught the short kick and was run out of bounds by McCourty. Manning failed to connect with D. Thomas, putting the Broncos at 2nd and 10. Manning then passed to J. Thomas, helping the Broncos reach the Patriots' 40-yard line. There was a handoff to Moreno, who was brought down by line backer Jamie Collins. Manning's passed to D. Thomas was incomplete, leaving Prater to attempt a 55-yard field goal. The kick was good and the Broncos led 26-10 with 7 minutes remaining in the game.
Moreno suffered a chest injury and officials said his return to the game was questionable.
After a series of passing plays, Brady scrambled 5 yards up the field for a touchdown with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter. But an attempt a a 2-point conversion failed, making the score Patriots 16, Broncos 26.
The on-side kick was fielded by Eric Decker, who stepped out of bounds. Manning completed a pass to Tamme, putting the team at the Patriots 25-yard line. The Patriots called their final time out after another handoff to Ball. The Broncos returned with three more handoffs to Ball, running down the clock.
Final score: Patriots 16, Broncos 26.
Tony Carter is out with concussion-like symptoms, according to officials.