DENVER – Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes to tight end Owen Daniels and Denver’s defense came up with three critical stops late in the fourth quarter as the Broncos beat the New England Patriots 20-18 Sunday to advance to their second Super Bowl in three years.
Manning outdueled Tom Brady in their fabled rivalry with a huge assist from the defense, led by linebacker Von Miller’s 2.5 sacks and interception.READ MORE: Keller @ Large: Colin Powell Showed There's A Lot Of Good In The American Way
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Patriots pulled to within 17-12 on kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal, a 38-yarder with 10:38 remaining in third quarter.
Denver managed to add a field goal by Brandon McManus, a 31-yarder with 10:02 left to play after Manning slightly overthrew wide receiver Jordan Norwood in the center of end zone on 3rd-and-goal from the 13.
Down by eight and facing 4th-and-1 at the Broncos’ 16 with 5:56 left, the Patriots passed up the field goal try. But Brady’s pass in the flat to wide receiver Danny Amendola was stopped for a one-yard loss.
After forcing a Denver punt the Patriots took over at their own 29 with 4:35 remaining. Again, Brady moved the Patriots downfield, getting a big chunk with a 28-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
But facing a fourth and 6 from Denver’s 14-yard line with 2:18 remaining, the Patriots again went for it and Brady, backpedaling and under duress by Denver’s pass rush, threw incomplete to the triple-covered Gronkowski in the end zone.
Denver again was held without a first down and with the Patriots, using timeouts and the two-minute warning, got the ball back at midfield with 1:52 remaining for one last possession. On 4th-and-10, Brady threaded the needle between two defenders for a 40-yard completion to Gronkowski to set up a first and goal at the 10. Wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a six-yard pass between a pair of incompletions before Gronkowski’s leaping touchdown grap over cornerback Chris Harris, pulling the Patriots to within two points with 12 seconds remaining.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie – Gostkowski missed a PAT in the first quarter, his only miss all season — cornerback Aqib Talib tipped Brady’s conversion pass and it was intercepted by cornerback Bradley Roby.
Broncos backup safety Shilo Keo recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Broncos.READ MORE: Cost Of Gas Jumps To $3.27 Per Gallon In Massachusetts; Highest Local Prices In 7 Years
Manning was sacked three times and completed 17 of 32 attempts for 176 yards.
Brady, who fell to 2-7 all-time at Denver, was 27 of 56 for 310 yards with one score and two interceptions. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 13 yards on three carries.
McManus drilled a 52-yard field goal in the final moments of the second quarter, and combined with two earlier touchdown passes from Manning to Daniels gave Denver a 17-9 halftime lead.
Gostkowski had a 46-yard field goal midway through the second quarter after a Patriots drive stalled when Miller and DeMarcus Ware combined for a third-down sack of Brady.
Earlier, with Miller dropping into coverage instead of rushing the passer, the Broncos’ linebacker intercepted a Brady pass intended for Gronkowski and returned it four yards to the Patriots’ 16-yard line. Two plays later, Daniels slipped past linebacker Jamie Collins with a double move and Manning lofted a pass from 12 yards out that Daniels caught up with in the corner of the end zone.
The Patriots won a replay review to help set up their initial touchdown when it was determined that Manning’s pass parallel to the line of scrimmage in the flat to running back Ronnie Hillman, at first ruled incomplete, had traveled backward, allowing linebacker Jonathan Freeny’s recovery of the loose ball at the Broncos’ 22-yard line to stand.
Running back Brandon Bolden turned a short pass from Brady into a 20-yard gain and a subsequent personal foul penalty set up a first and goal at the 1. Stephen Jackson scored on the next play but Gostkowski missed the extra point wide right.
Manning had the Broncos moving on their first possession, guiding them downfield before hitting a wide open Daniels down the middle for a 21-yard touchdown pass.MORE NEWS: State Police Union: Roughly 300 Troopers Are Still Unvaccinated As Mandate Goes Into Effect
NOTES: The Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl for the eighth time, tied for the most in NFL history. … K Stephen Gostkowski was wide right with his extra point try after the Patriots’ initial touchdown, his first missed conversion since the 2006 regular season finale, his rookie season. … Broncos QB Peyton Manning has had multiple touchdown passes 10 times in playoff games, tying him for fourth most in NFL postseason history. … TE Owen Daniels’ two touchdown catches are one shy of his total in the regular season. … Patriots QB Tom Brady threw a pair of first half interceptions for just the second time in his playoff career. The other time was Jan. 10, 2010, in what became a 33-14 loss to Baltimore. … Broncos S Darian Stewart left in the third quarter with a knee injury. … The crowd of 77,112 was the second largest in Broncos history. There were only 45 no shows among the tickets distributed. … S T.J. Ward left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.