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Broncos 24, Chargers 17

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DENVER -- Quarterback Peyton Manning threw for two touchdowns and led a clock-killing drive in the waning moments as the Denver Broncos held off the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday to advance to the AFC championship game.

With the victory, the Broncos (14-3) advanced to next Sunday's AFC title game against the New England Patriots, who beat the Indianapolis Colts in a divisional playoff on Saturday.

Manning finished 25 of 36 for 230 yards and was at his best on the Broncos' final possession to help fend off the Chargers (10-8), who scored all their points in a furious fourth quarter.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Keenan Allen, finishing 18 of 27 for 217 yards passing. Running back Ryan Mathews played despite an ankle injury that forced him to miss practice this week. However, he didn't make an appearance in the second half.

Denver used a more deliberate offensive approach to avenge a late season loss to San Diego, which was the only team to beat the Broncos in Denver this season.

The Broncos stretched its lead to 17-0 on Matt Prater's 45-yard field goal midway through the third quarter but he later missed a 47-yard attempt wide left, giving the Chargers a short field for a drive that led to their first score.

Allen got behind cornerback Quentin Jammer, who had come in for the injured Chris Harris (knee/ankle) and made an over-the-shoulder catch of Rivers' 16-yard scoring pass to pull San Diego to 17-7 with 12:59 left to play.

Trindon Holliday returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown but the score was negated by an illegal block in the back, with Denver instead starting the drive at its own 19.

Helped by a pass interference penalty, Manning had a pair of completions to wide receiver Wes Welker and another to tight end Julius Thomas to get the ball to the San Diego 24, where Manning handed the ball off three straight times to Knowshon Moreno, with the running back going 3 yards for the touchdown on the last carry with 8:12 to go.

San Diego came right back with Rivers and Allen hooking up an another 16-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Chargers to within 24-14 with 5:49 remaining.

The Chargers' recovered an onside kick, after it went through Eric Decker's hands, and Rivers' 25-yard completion to Allen helped set up Nick Novak's 30-yard field goal with 3:56 remaining as San Diego got within a touchdown to tie.

But the Chargers wouldn't get the ball back as the Broncos ran off the rest of the clock after Manning converted a critical 3rd-and-17 play with a 21-yard completion to Thomas. Manning capped the victory by taking a knee to run out the final few seconds.

The Broncos settled for a 14-0 halftime lead after Manning's pass to Decker in the end zone went off the receiver's hands in the final seconds of the second quarter. Linebacker Donald Butler gathered in the deflection, getting both feet down inside the back line before falling out of bounds for a touchback.

Still, Denver ground away at the Chargers defense, chewing up yards and the clock on runs by Moreno and Montee Ball with Manning picking his spots in the passing game.

On Denver's opening possession, Manning guided the Broncos on a 14-play touchdown drive -- the second-longest drive in terms of plays by the Broncos this season. Manning shook off a near interception by cornerback Shareece Wright before finishing the prolonged march with a short scoring pass to Demaryius Thomas.

Manning, whose hard-count got Chargers defenders to jump offsides five times, drew two of the neutral zone infractions during Denver's second touchdown drive, which covered 57 yards. Welker, playing with a special, slightly oversized helmet after missing the final three games of the regular season due to his second concussion of the year, was open in front of safety Eric Weddle and Manning hit him from 3 yards out.

San Diego forced a turnover when safety Jahleel Addae stripped Thomas of the ball after a second-quarter catch but the Chargers, held to just 45 yards in the first two quarters, couldn't capitalize.

After defensive lineman Malik Jackson's third-down sack of Rivers, kicker Nick Novak was short on a 53-yard field goal try.

NOTES: The Chargers and Broncos, AFC West divisional rivals, met for the first time in the postseason after playing each other 108 times previously. ... San Diego LB Manti Te'o did not play in the second half after suffering a concussion making a tackle just before halftime. ... Denver QB Peyton Manning has had multiple touchdown passes in eight of his playoff games. ... Denver was without DL Derek Wolfe, who remains sidelined by illness. ... San Diego RG Jeromey Clary was among the team's inactive players after missing practice all week due to a shoulder injury. ... Denver RB Knowshon Moreno scored his first postseason rushing touchdown.
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