DENVER (CBS4) - Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos took the lead against the New England Patriots early in the AFC Championship Game on a beautiful afternoon in Denver and didn't look back.
Denver punched a ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a convincing 26-16 win over the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. They will face the Seahawks after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17.
"This team has been through a lot," said Manning after the game. "We've overcome a number of obstacles this year. It's been very gratifying to be a part of this team. We have just kept our nose to the grindstone, kept persevering and it's great to get this win today."
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 26, Patriots 16
The Patriots suffered a key injury in their secondary when Aqib Talib left early in the game, and Manning took advantage through the rest of the game. Demaryius Thomas had 7 catches for 134 yards and seemed to be open every time Manning looked towards him.
"It's a great tribute to these players and this staff, and I couldn't be more proud of a group of men in my life," Broncos head coach John Fox said after the game as he hoisted the AFC Conference Championship trophy. "This is for them."
Two giant clock-eating drives that both led to points by the Broncos offense in the second and third quarters also helped seal the deal for Denver.
Perhaps in an attempt to confuse the Patriots defense the Broncos offense in the first of those drives (a 15 play, 93 yard beast that ended with a TD) put some players in unexpected roles.
Tight end Virgil Green and defensive lineman Mitch Unrein both lined up in the backfield during offensive snaps.
Green took a handoff on second and 7 on the Denver 36 during the drive. He ran it for 6 yards in his first career rush, and it was a pretty one.
Green broke at least one tackle and dodged another tackler for positive yardage.
Unrein, a defensive tackle who has one career catch (and one career touchdown) to his credit, lined up next to Manning while the Broncos were in the red zone on the same drive. He acted as a fullback on at least two running plays but the Broncos were unable to get into the endzone on the ground.
Manning then threw the only touchdown of the first half to Jacob Tamme for a 10-0 lead.
The third quarter drive lasted for 7 minutes and 8 seconds and ended with Manning's second and final touchdown pass -- a 3 yarder to Thomas. It lasted for 13 plays and covered 80 yards.
Manning ended the day with 32 completions on 43 attempts for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
Perhaps the biggest moment in the game came on a defensive play. Terrance Knighton sacked Brady on 4th and 3 near the end of the third quarter and the Broncos took over on downs. At that point it was 20-3.
Brady also was hurried several times in the game and Robert Ayers also sacked him in the first half. He ended the game with 24 completions on 38 attempts for 277 yards, plus two rushes for 7 yards, including a touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots failed to score a two-point conversion on a run by Shane Vereen after that touchdown and were unable to recover on an on-sides kick.
The Broncos then took over and Manning orchestrated his second straight drive that ran out the clock for a win in a playoff game.
The win marked a big moment for everyone in the Denver Broncos organization. It's the first time the team has been to the Super Bowl since John Elway led the franchise to its second straight Lombardi Trophy in 1999.
It's a particularly poignant moment for cornerback Champ Bailey, who is the only player on the roster who was on the team when the Broncos lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game after the 2005 season.
"That's what it's all about," Bailey said in the locker room after Sunday's win. "To give yourself a chance to get in the big one."
The Super Bowl will take place between the Broncos and the Seahawks on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
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