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Broncos 26, Patriots 16

The SportsXchange

DENVER -- Peyton Manning led six scoring drives, finishing two with touchdown passes and the Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots 26-16 Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years.

Manning outdueled New England nemesis Tom Brady in the 15th meeting between the two quarterbacks over their long careers.

Brady still holds a 10-5 overall edge but Manning evened the score in the postseason at 2-2 with the victory in the AFC title game and grabbed the chance to play the winner of the NFC title game played later Sunday between San Francisco and Seattle

Manning completed 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards and had scorings pass of 3 yards to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and a 1-yarder to tight end Jacob Tamme.

Manning also engineered four other scoring drives resulting in field goals by Matt Prater in leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl since John Elway, now the team's chief of football operations, led them to back to back championships following the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Up by 10 at halftime, the Broncos built a 23-3 lead, opening the third-quarter by grinding out a 13-play march culminating in Thomas' leaping catch in the end zone in front of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Manning led another long drive in which the Broncos' settled for a 20-yard field goal by Prater after his third-down pass in the end zone for tight end Julius Thomas fell incomplete.

Trying to get back in the game, the Patriots went for it on a fourth-and-3 play at the Broncos' 29-yard line midway through the third quarter but defensive lineman Terrance Knighton sacked Brady for the defensive stop.

The Patriots made a late push in the fourth quarter, with Brady connecting on a 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman and then scrambling 5 yards for another touchdown around Prater's fourth field goal, a 54-yarder with 7:00 remaining.

But Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker recovered the Patriots' onside kick with 3:06 left to play and Manning ran out the rest of the clock, with the critical play coming on a fourth-and-1 deep inside Patriots territory with Montee Ball running for the first down to deny the Patriots a last crack at the ball.

Prater's second field goal, a 35-yarder with 25 seconds left in the second quarter, stretched Denver's lead to 13-3 at halftime. Manning drove the Broncos to the Patriots' 21-yard line before his third-down swing pass to Knowshon Moreno came up a yard short of the first down, and the Broncos opted to go again with the sure-footed Prater, whose 27-yarder earlier accounted for the game's first score.

Stifling the Patriots attack with a stout defense and by keeping the ball away from Brady with long, well-executed drives, Manning culminated a 93-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring pass to Tamme.

A third-down defensive holding penalty against rookie cornerback Logan Ryan extended the Broncos' 15-play touchdown drive -- which stood out as the second longest drive by Denver in terms of plays this season.

Moreno broke off a 28-yard run to New England's 11-yard line and three more runs advanced the ball to the 1, where Manning hit the wide-open Tamme on a play-action pass that caught the Patriots defense overplaying the run.

The Patriots got on the board with a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with just under 3:00 remaining in the second quarter. Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers forced the field goal when he broke through to sack Brady for an 11-yard loss on a third-and-8 play.

NOTES: Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, now the Patriots' offensive coordinator, was booed heavily during pre-game warm-ups when he stepped onto field with QB Tom Brady. ... TE Jacob Tamme's scoring catch for Denver was his first career postseason touchdown reception. ... Broncos DE Robert Ayers' sack of Brady was his third in the playoffs, tying him with Neil Smith for third on the team's all-time postseason list. ... Brady lost for the first time in eight games against a defense led by Jack Del Rio, in his second season as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. ... Patriots CB Aquib Talib did not return after suffering a second-quarter knee injury.
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