A hot start from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, numerous questionable calls from the officials, and a fourth-quarter comeback from the San Diego Chargers ... This game had it all, but in the end, Manning held off the narrative for another week by improving his career playoff record to 10-11 in the Broncos' 24-17 win over the Chargers in the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.
The Chargers had a chance to make this a much different game. An early dropped interception and a few bad penalties extended drives for Denver and helped the Broncos take a 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes from Manning, one to Demaryius Thomas and the other to Wes Welker.
It took the Chargers until the second half to open up the game plan and by then it was too late. Keenan Allen caught two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but San Diego waited too long to rely on Rivers' arm. A hobbled Ryan Matthews managed only 26 yards on five carries, and Danny Woodhead didn't fare much better.
Even when San Diego pulled within a touchdown late, Manning and the Broncos did what they have done all year. They continued to grind the clock down, picking up first downs on the ground and through the air to advance to the AFC Championship against the Patriots. The Chargers had a chance to get things going early but didn't take advantage. It ultimately cost them.Matthew Fairburn
Peyton Manning couldn't be stopped. The Broncos were sucking the life out of the Chargers in the first quarter. First down after first down had Denver imposing its will. Then the Chargers had a chance to change the course of the game. With Manning inside Chargers territory, he lofted a deep pass toward the end zone. It was one of his two incompletions on the 14-play, 86-yard drive that took up seven minutes of game block, but it should have been an interception.
The ball bounced off Shareece's Wright's hand, and Manning lived to fight another day. The drive ended in a touchdown, and the Chargers were stuck playing catch-up for the rest of the game. It's tough enough to beat Manning, but it's even harder when a team doesn't take advantage of his few mistakes. The Chargers failed to do that early, and it snowballed on them.
It's the kind of play winners in the postseason make ... Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense made it three times. With three minutes to play, only up one score, the Broncos faced two 3rd and longs - 17 and 6 yards - and converted both.
What comes next for Manning and the Broncos is a week of hearing about Manning's playoff record, his record against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and dozens of talking heads discussing whether or not Manning can win the big one.
It's the matchup the NFL dreamed of, the one most expected all season, and the one that will inspire a week of somewhat pointless debate over two great quarterbacks. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots vs. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship at 3 p.m. ET on CBS for a trip to the Super Bowl.