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Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship LIVE Blog: Pats Fall To Broncos 26-16

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Stay with CBSBostonsports.com for all the updates from the Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship.

Final: Broncos 26, Patriots 16: Peyton Manning is heading to his third Super Bowl, while the Patriots are heading home.

New England couldn’t get much going on either side of the ball in this one. The offense never got into a groove, and the recently robust run game managed just 64 yards. Tom Brady went 24-for-34 for 277 yards through the air, throwing one touchdown and running another, but it was nowhere near enough against Manning and his offense.

Manning was stellar, throwing for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He picked apart the Patriots defense as soon as Aqib Talib made his way to the locker room in the first half, and looked like a man determined to get another shot at a championship.

The Patriots were completely outplayed in their biggest game of the year, but it’s hard not to say they overachieved all season given the injuries they suffered throughout. But they won’t use injuries to Wilfork, Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Sebastian Vollmer as an excuse. They got outplayed when it mattered most, and their season is over a few weeks earlier than they would have liked because of it.

We’ll be breaking this one down all night, so stick with CBSBostonsports.com for all the reaction to the season ending.

Patriots 5th Quarter will have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s press conferences live on myTV38, and 98.5 The Sports Hub has three hours of postgame analysis coming your way.

4th Quarter, 2:41: Manning hits Julius Thomas for 23 yards down to the New England 25, and that should all but end this one.

On the sidelines, Brady put his hand on his forehead. Even he knows…

4th Quarter, 3:06: Gostkowski’s kick goes too high, and Denver comes down with it easily.

All the Broncos have to do is run out the clock at this point.

4th Quarter, 3:07 — Broncos 26, Patriots 16: Tom Brady hasn’t been able to do much through the air, so he decided to take care of business with his legs.

Brady took one in from five yards out to inch the Patriots a little closer, but Vereen was stuffed on the two-point try to keep it a 10-point Denver lead, 26-16.

Style points for Brady spinning the ball after the run, but that won’t help on the scoreboard.

There really wasn’t much of a sense of urgency by the Patriots on the 10-play drive that took up 3:53.

Onside kick coming up. This could get interesting.

4th Quarter, 7:00 — Broncos 26, Patriots 10: Denver only got one big play on the last drive, a 37-yard connection between Manning and Julius Thomas, but it was enough for the leg of Matt Prater to add another field goal to their lead.

Thomas beat Jamie Collins, who is having an other-wise solid game, to set the Broncos up at the New England 38. Manning went deep to his other Thomas a few plays later, but the ball went off his fingertips and Denver had to settle for a field goal.

But those three points make it a three-score game for the Patriots.

As a side note, Manning has yet to be hit today. Can’t even recall a Patriot putting their hand on him.

4th Quarter, 9:26 – Broncos 23, Patriots 10: The Patriots have finally found the end zone, but is it too little too late?

Brady hit Edelman in the end zone from seven yards out to cap off a nine-play drive that covered 80 yards in just 2:26.

New England started the drive by picking up three straight first downs, and got a couple big plays out of Shane Vereen late. The versatile back came up with a big catch on a ball thrown by Brady as he was being sacked, picking up seven yards. Two plays later, he hauled in a12-yard catch-and-run that set the Patriots up at the Denver 7.

Two plays later, Brady hit Edelman for New England’s first touchdown of the day.

There’s still plenty of time left, so we’ll see if that last drive woke up the offense enough.

4th Quarter, 12:02 — Broncos 23, Patriots 3: The Patriots defense held the Broncos out of the end zone, but Denver tacked on three more points to take a 23-3 lead.

Julius Thomas has been a difference-maker today, as many predicted, as he picked up 14 big yards on a 2nd-and 13. After making the catch, he hurdled over Devin McCourty to pick up the first.

A few plays later though, Manning went looking for Thomas in the end zone, and the tight end couldn’t come down with the pass, setting up the 20-yard field goal by Prater.

It’s stating the obvious, but the Patriots must find the end zone on this next drive if they want to give themselves any chance at another amazing comeback.

End 3rd Quarter — Broncos 20, Patriots 3: And just like that, the third quarter is in the books.

The Patriots got the ball once in that quarter, and though they put together a 13-play drive that went 41-yards, it didn’t result in any points. Entering the fourth quarter, that is all that matters anymore.

It’s not looking good for the Patriots’ chances, but crazier things have happened.

3rd Quarter, 2:25: It’s hard to fault the Patriots passing up a 47-yard field goal, but they have to do a little better than letting Brady get sacked on a crucial 4th down.

But, Terrence Knighton beat Logan Mankins (which doesn’t happen all that often) to get to Brady and bring him down for a 10-yard loss.

That makes it twice today that the Patriots have called a timeout out and Brady has been sacked on the ensuing play.

The Broncos now take over at their own 39-yard line, and the defense will make their way back onto the field. I’m exhausted just watching them, so I can’t imagine how they feel.

3rd Quarter, 2:30: Big spot coming up for the Patriots’ offense, as they face a 4th-and-2 at the Denver 29.

Belichick will be going for this one, and it caused John Fox to call his second timeout of the half.

Huge spot for the offense, and now would be a great time for them to finally make a play.

3rd Quarter, 7:52 — Broncos 20, Patriots 3: After a steady dose of Moreno, and a little bit of Ball mixed in, the Broncos went to the air and found the end zone for the second time this afternoon.

Manning hit DeMaryius Thomas to cap off a drive that ate up 7:08 on the clock, nearly half the quarter, to put his Broncos up 20-3. Dennard didn’t have great position on the play, and you can only wonder how big of a difference Talib would make at this point.

The Broncos picked up six first downs on the drive. The Patriots only managed six first downs the entire first half.

The chances of the Patriots running game playing a role in this one just took a hit. The Patriots need to score quick on this possession, especially if the Broncos have another 7-minute drive in them.

3rd Quarter, 13:27: The Patriots are now saying it’s a knee injury for Talib, and his return remains questionable.

They could certainly use him, as Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan are struggling with the Broncos’ receivers.

Halftime — Broncos 13, Patriots 3: The Patriots defense has to feel pretty good that Denver only found the end zone once in the first half.

But the New England offense has to feel pretty bad that they never really sniffed the end zone in the first half.

The Broncos have controlled this one from the get-go. They’ve out-gained the Patriots 270-119, have held on to the ball for 17:40 compared to the Patriots’ 12:11, and have 15 first downs to the Patriots’ six.

The Patriots are not the run-heavy team many expected they would be, passing the ball 15 times in their 24 first-half plays. They can’t seem to get the running game going, as they’ve picked up just 16 yards on eight carries.

The defense isn’t playing bad, but they’ve felt the loss of Aqib Talib. Manning is 18-for-25 for 214 yards, with DeMaryius Thomas leading the way with 82 yards on just three catches. The Patriots haven’t put much pressure on Manning so far, and the quarterback has had plenty of time in the pocket to go to work.

But the Patriots still find themselves down by only 10 at the half despite their poor play. The Broncos get the ball back to start the second half though, so the D will have to continue to keep the Broncos out of the end zone, and hope the offense can right the ship.

2nd Quarter, 0:30 — Broncos 13, Patriots 3: The Broncos added another three points to their lead, but they also gave Tom Brady 30 seconds to work with.

Manning hit DeMaryius Thomas for back-to-back big gains of 27 yards and 26 yards, the first coming on second-and-20, setting Denver up at the New England 37.

The Patriots were able to keep the Broncos out of the end zone, and John Fox called a timeout after a third down stop of Moreno contemplating a fourth-and-1 play.

But they ended up kicking the field goal, leaving some time on the clock for Brady. But given how the Patriots’ offense has played so far today, that might not be as bad as it sounds.

2nd Quarter, 2:54 — Broncos 10, Patriots 3: The timeout didn’t help, as Brady was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Robert Ayers on 3rd-and-8. Nate Solder got beat underneath, and Brady went down hard.

The Patriots are now just 1-for-6 on third down, but Stephen Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal has them on the board.

The Pats were able to move the ball on that possession, with Brady hitting Dobson for 27 yards and Vereen for another 13 during the nine-play drive. But the couldn’t capitalize when they got deep in the Denver zone, and now Manning and the Broncos offense have a chance to add to their lead prior to the half.

2nd Quarter, 3:41: Facing a 3rd-and-8 at the Denver 18, the Patriots just burned their first timeout of the half.

2nd Quarter, 6:55: Quick update on Aqib Talib.

According to the CBS broadcast, Talib went to the X-Ray room upon leaving the field to have his ribs checked out. His return is questionable.

He is back on the sideline though, so that’s a good sign.

2nd Quarter, 7:50 — Broncos 10, Patriots 0: I thought the Patriots were supposed to be the team to break out in the run game?

Moreno schooled the Patriots defense on a pretty 28-yard run on third down, making Duron Harmon look every bit of a rookie with a nice juke move before making the remaining Patriots’ safeties miss down field. The run set the Broncos up at the New England 11, and three plays later Manning hit Jacob Tamme for a one-yard touchdown.

The 15-play drive covered 93 yards and ate up over seven minutes on the clock. Denver is winning the battle of the clock so far, 15:11 to 6:59.

New England’s third down defense has been atrocious so far, allowing the Broncos to convert five of their seven third-down tries. The Broncos have out-gained the Patriots 198 to 63, and have 12 first downs to the Patriots’ two.

Yuck.

2nd Quarter, 14:11: Wes Welker and Aqib Talib just had a collision at mid-field, and the Patriots’ corner is down.

Talib has made his way to the sidelines, and Bill Belichick is giving the line judge an earful, upset there was no offensive PI on the play.

The last thing the Patriots need is another key injury on defense, and Talib is now heading into the New England locker room with the team’s medical staff.

2nd Quarter, 14:51: No going for it on fourth down for the Patriots, as Allen punts it away.

It was a good one too. It only went 32 yards, but the Broncos will take over at their own seven-yard line.

End of 1st Quarter — Broncos 3, Patriots 0: Well, it hasn’t been the high-scoring game many predicted given the nice weather in Denver, but we still have 45 minutes of football to play.

The good news is the Patriots picked up a pair of first downs on their current drive. The bad news is when they come back for the second quarter, they’ll be facing a 4th and 16.

Shane Vereen got the Patriots’ offense going with a 24-yard catch and run from Brady on the first play of the drive. A few plays later, Brady hit Edelman for 18 yards down to the Denver 18.

After Ridley was stuffed at the line on first down, Brady couldn’t hook up with Edelman (Brady also missed a home run pass to Edelman on the second play of the drive) on second down.

A Hoomanawanui offensive PI set the Patriots up with a 3rd-and-20, and Brady and Edelman could only manage four yards on the play.

That’s when the clock hit 00:00 on the quarter, with the Pats facing a 4th-and-16 on the Denver 43.

Denver has held the ball for two minutes longer than the Patriots so far, and the Patriots are throwing twice as much as they are running the ball.

1st Quarter, 3:43  – Broncos 3, Patriots 0: Bend don’t break.

That’s exactly what the Patriots defense did on the Broncos’ last drive, holding them to a field goal after Manning and company got to the New England 9-yard line.

The Broncos marched down the field thanks to a pair of big plays over the middle: a 29-yard catch by DeMarius Thomas and a 19-yard reception by Decker.

Manning went for Julius Thomas in the end zone on first down, but Devin McCourty was there to bother the tight end and the pass fell incomplete. Some would argue that McCourty should have been flagged for pass interference, but maybe it’s a sign the officials will let the defenses play today.

Manning overthrew Decker in the end zone on third down, feeling some pressure by Chandler Jones, and Denver had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Matt Prater.

The defense bent but didn’t break. Now the offense has to hold up their end of the bargain.

1st Quarter, 7:50: Two series in for the Patriots’ offense, and they still haven’t picked up a first down.

After having success on the ground last week, the Pats have passed the ball on four of their six plays to open this one. Brady hit Matthew Mulligan for six yards on first down, and Blount only picked up a yard on a second down run.

Brady then went deep to seldom-used receiver Matthew Slater (who makes his money as a Pro Bowl special teamer), but the pass was broken up by Tony Carter.

Many thought it would be ground-and-pound to start for the Patriots, but that isn’t the case so far. Now the D will try to get Manning and company off the field.

1st Quarter, 9:30: The Broncos picked up a couple of first downs, but their first series ended with a Billy Colquitt punt bouncing into the end zone for a touchback.

Manning was able to move the chains thanks to a couple of connections with Eric Decker. But the Patriots defense was able to hit Knowshawn Morena for a five-yard loss on a 2nd-and-4 play to set up 3rd-and-long. Manning couldn’t hit Decker down the sideline, and the Broncos were forced to punt.

1st Quarter, 13:25: Nothing doing for the Patriots on their first possession of the game, as the Broncos defense forces a three-and-out.

Brady threw on first down, hitting Julian Edelman for five yards to the left. LeGarrette Blount was stuffed at the line on second down, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie broke up Brady’s third-down pass to Austin Collie.

After a 60-yard punt by Ryan Allen, the Broncos will take over at their own 15-yard line.

Pregame — 3:00 p.m.: Both teams have taken the field and we’re just about ready to play some football (well, the players are. We’ll just be writing about it).

As for the coin toss, the Patriots (and Willie McGinest) called heads and it came up tails. The defered to second half, so the Patriots will get ball to open game.

Though the coin toss didn’t go the Patriots’ way, at least Bon Jovi is present for this one. Good vibes for Bill Belichick.

Pregame  – 2:41 p.m.: They just announced the game-time temperature at 63-degrees in Denver.

The teams are finishing up their pregame warmups and getting ready for kickoff.

The Patriots tweeted out a nice moment between owner Robert Kraft and former Pats wide receiver Wes Welker, as the two shared a nice hug prior to the game.

In case you missed it, WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes sat down with Kraft earlier this week. Tuesday marks the 20-year anniversary of his purchase of the team on Tuesday, and he opened up about the whole process, and also shared his thoughts on the 2013 team.

Next update — THE GAME!

Pregame — 2:14 p.m.: One of the big topics this week is the Denver altitude and how it may affect the Patriots.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030 spoke with a Denver meteorologist who said it will take a toll on the Patriots, but it shouldn’t be anything they can’t handle.

Here’s one guy on the Patriots that won’t let the altitude get to him. In fact, it may even make him better:

Add in the beautiful weather in Denver (it’s going to be around the 70′s come game time) and we could be looking at a high-scoring tilt. Once either team crosses the 50-yard line, they’ll pretty much be in field goal range thanks to the Denver altitude.

Pregame — 1:35 p.m.: The Patriots just released their six remaining inactives for today’s game:

DL Isaac Sopoaga, CB Justin Green, G Chris Barker, TE D.J. Williams, DE Jake Bequette and WR Kebrell Thompkins.

Linebacker Steven Beauharnais was also ruled out on Friday due to an illness.

While Thompkins out, rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson is active. He missed last week’s win over the Colts with a foot injury, but according to reports in Denver looked good on the field in pregame warmups. He’ll give the Patriots a bit of size at the position, which should open up the middle of the field for Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and Dobson’s size could come in handy in the red zone.

Punter Ryan Allen is also active, and is good-to-go as New England’s punter and holder.

For the Broncos, former Patriots cornerback Marquice Cole is inactive.

Pregame — 12:50 p.m.: We’re slowly but surely making our way towards game time. Now is the perfect chance to go get that extra bag of chips or six-pack of your choice, because you’re not going to leave once this puppy kicks off.

A few pre-game notes from Denver:

- Three-time Super Bowl winner Willie McGinest will serve as the Patriots’ honorary captain for today’s game. He was the first player the Pats drafted after Robert Kraft bought the team.

-  Eight of the 14 Brady-Manning matchups have been decided by seven or fewer points, including six of the last seven.

And, we published predictions earlier this week, but here is how WBZ-TV’s Patriots GameDay crew felt with the game just a few hours away:

Pregame — 11:30 a.m.: The wait is over. Well, almost.

After a week of constant analysis, head-to-head comparisons and, of course, plenty of hype, the AFC Championship is just a few hours away. The Patriots and Broncos will duke it out in Denver for a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII, matching Peyton Manning against the mind of New England head coach Bill Belichick once again.

The week has been full of Brady vs. Manning talk, but when it all comes down to it, it’s Belichick who has been causing all the headaches in Manning’s giant dome for the last decade. Now, the QB will take on the Pats’ head coach for the 18th time in his career, and the stakes have never been higher.

The pressure is on Denver; the top seed, the home team, and the highest-scoring offensive football team to ever take the field. Their opponent is a Patriots team that has gone through a complete offensive transition and put more Band-Aids on their defense than a 5-year old roller skating for the first time. If Manning can’t lead his Broncos to a victory in this one, his legacy takes an even bigger hit than his Super Bowl loss to the Saints four years ago.

But there will be plenty of time to go over the legacies of Manning, Belichick and Brady after the game. For now, we can look ahead to what will happen on the field when this one finally kicks off.

The Patriots have had success pounding the ball on the ground with LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley, but will that success continue against a Broncos team that ranked in the top 10 against the run? Granted, teams didn’t run much against Denver given the fact they usually trailed early in games, and teams known as running teams had some success. The Chiefs  were able to rack up 144 and 159 rushing yards in their two meetings with Denver, but both came in losing causes.

It’ll be important for the Patriots to put up an early score, establish the run, and keep Manning off the field while the clock is ticking.

On defense, the Patriots have their hands full with all of Manning’s weapons down the field. Aqib Talib will be tasked with shutting down DeMaryius Thomas, who found the end zone late in the two teams’ Week 12 meeting despite being held to just four catches on nine targets. Also added to the mix this time around is tight end Julius Thomas, who should open up more opportunities for the likes of Wes Welker (and his giant helmet) and Eric Decker. Jamie Collins, fresh off a break-out week against the Colts, will be a big factor in keeping Thomas in check, though that is no easy task — especially for a rookie.

The bottom line is we’re in for another classic this afternoon. It could be the final chapter of the famous Manning-Brady rivalry, so while we get caught up in every rush, every pass, every yard gained on the field, it’s important to take a step back and soak it all in.  And even if this is the final time the Patriots take the field this season, it’s been one heck of a ride given all they’ve fought back from since the end of the 2012 campaign.

So sit back, enjoy the game, and stick with CBSBostonsports.com for all the updates in what should be another epic AFC Championship for the Patriots.

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