Peyton Manning is headed back to the Super Bowl.
Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns as his Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots, 26-16, to advance to the title game for the first time since he lost Super Bowl XLIV as a member of the Indianapolis Colts in 2010.
After the Broncos dominated the first three quarters, the Patriots were able to mount a late rally. Tom Brady led two touchdown drives in the last 10 minutes, and his five-yard scramble with just over three minutes remaining cut what once once a sizable lead to 10 points. Shane Vereen was stood up on the ensuing two-point conversion, and the Broncos grabbed the onside kick to all but seal it.
Denver took a commanding 20-3 lead coming out of halftime when Manning found Demaryius Thomas for a three-yard touchdown pass, capping off a seven-minute, 13-play drive on the opening possession of the third quarter. With Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib sidelined for most of the game with an injury, Thomas routinely burned the Patriots secondary. He finished with seven receptions for 134 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, Manning hit Jacob Tamme on a one-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-0. The Patriots got on the board on the following possession with a field goal, but Manning led the Broncos on an answering drive just before halftime to go up 13-3.
Brady struggled with his accuracy, going 24-of-38 for 277 yards and one touchdown and making several key overthrows.
He finally got the Patriots into the end zone when he hit Julian Edelman from seven yards out with 9:30 remaining. Once again, however, the Broncos answered. Matt Prater connected on a 54-yard field goal on the next possession to make it 26-10.Jeff Gray
With two and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Patriots faced a fourth and two from the Denver 29-yard line. Trailing 20-3, Bill Belichick elected to go for it. Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton beat Logan Mankins with a quick swim move to get into the backfield and sack Brady for a 10-yard loss. The Broncos moved downfield for a field goal on the ensuing drive to all but seal the deal.
John Fox will be the sixth head coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl.
The Broncos advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning back-to-back titles with John Elway in 1997 and '98. They'll await the winner of the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game on Sunday afternoon.
After a two-week break, Denver will play in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.