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Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning warms up before the AFC Championship NFL playoff football game against the New England Patriots in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
NFL: Broncos to Super Bowl after beating Patriots 26-16

AFC championship » 400-yard day gives QB shot at a second ring.

First Published Jan 19 2014 04:16 pm • Last Updated Jan 19 2014 11:23 pm

Denver • Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.

The connection: Flawless, as usual.

At a glance

Super Bowl XLVIII

At East Rutherford, N.J.

Sunday, Feb. 2

4:30 p.m. TV » Ch. 13

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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 the Seattle Seahawks, who beat San Francisco 23-17 in the NFC title game.

"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."


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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).

The Broncos held the ball for 35:44. They were 7-for-13 on third-down conversions.

"We got in a hole there," Brady said. "It was just too much to dig our way out."

A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three games didn’t have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.



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