It was the 17th chapter of the long saga between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but the AFC Championship spotlight was stolen by defenses. Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller racked up 2.5 sacks and an interception to shut down the New England Patriots offense for most of the day and send the Broncos to the Super Bowl with the 20-18 win.
Miller led a Denver pass rush that kept Brady out of sync for the entire game, although he managed to piece together a drive in the final seconds that could have potentially tied the game. However, Brady's pass on a two-point conversion was tipped into the air and intercepted, ending the team's final hopes for a comeback.
The two-point conversion for the Patriots was only necessary because the team's only other touchdown of the day didn't tie the game at 7-7 when Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in nine years.
After winning the coin toss, the Patriots went away from the team's usual strategy of deferring to the second half and instead elected to receive the opening kickoff, presumably because Bill Belichick thought an early lead would be especially advantageous against a Broncos offense led by a quarterback who hadn't found the end zone much at all this year.
But a slow start for Brady and the New England offense nullified the strategy, even if a three-and-out for the Denver offense at the beginning of the second half meant it didn't cost the Patriots much strategically.
Still, it was the Broncos that found offensive success on the first drive of the game, methodically picking apart the Patriots' defense on an 11-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard touchdown reception for Owen Daniels to give Denver a 7-0 lead that it would never relinquish.
In the final chapter of the Brady vs. Manning rivalry, the remainder of the scoring was mostly set up by mistakes by the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. First it was a backward pass by Manning that was recovered by Jonathan Freeny.
That set up Steven Jackson's first career postseason touchdown. Gostkowski's missed extra point attempt preserved the Broncos' lead and Denver eventually added to that when Brady threw an interception straight to Miller, setting up a second touchdown reception for Daniels.
It was one of two interceptions in the first half for Brady, and while he avoided them in the second half, he never found a rhythm. The Patriots didn't add another touchdown until Rob Gronkowski finally scored with 12 seconds remaining in the game.
While Manning posted a mediocre 176 yards through the air, Brady completed fewer than half of his 56 pass attempts, something that he had never done before in the playoffs.
The Broncos advance to the Super Bowl, which will be the eighth trip for the franchise, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots for the most in NFL history. It will be Manning's fourth trip to the Super Bowl and his chance for a second championship ring.
* * *
To purchase any Denver Broncos Super Bowl apparel, visit the SB Nation shop at Fanatics.