It had to come down to Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. The amount of coverage surrounding the matchup was over the top, but it was also the key to the AFC Championship Game, which the Broncos won, 26-16.
So on Sunday, it shouldn't have been a surprise when the winner was the team with the better quarterback. It started in the first quarter. Julian Edelman came open down the field, a big gain looking like a formality. Brady lost his footing slightly and the pass sailed over Edelman's head incomplete.
The Patriots had an opportunity to take a lead on the Broncos, but instead began falling behind quickly. Down 10 points with the first half winding down, Brady had another chance to keep the game close. Again his receiver came open, and again Brady just slightly overthrew the intended target.
The second half was better for Brady, but it was too little, too late. While he threw a touchdown and ran for another, every time New England got close enough to make the game interesting, Manning and the Broncos answered right back. Brady had to deal with pressure throughout the game and never fully got into rhythm. He finished 24-for-38 for 277 yards and a touchdown. His late rushing touchdown wasn't enough to keep New England in the game.
Even though Brady's numbers are nothing to scoff at, he was outmatched by Manning, who threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Everything seemed stacked against Brady. He was without his top weapon on offense, the Broncos applied consistent pressure and Manning was able to throw against a banged-up New England secondary.
Instead of another trip to the Super Bowl, Brady came up just short. In some cases there wasn't much he could do. But on a few of these passes, he missed big opportunities for yards and points. Sadness ensued.