The Denver Broncos entered Sunday’s AFC Championship game versus the New England Patriots as underdogs.  Historically, Peyton Manning  has a winning record in the playoffs versus the New England Patriots. But age and an obvious erosion of his skills caused some to believe that Bill Belichick and company were already on their way, prior to kickoff, to Super Bowl 50.

Well, a funny thing happened on New England's way to being crowned conference champs. They lost 20-18 as Manning and the Broncos advanced to the big game.

In terms of irony and excitement, the game rates way up there.  Both Tom Brady and Manning are up there in age at 38 and 39-years-old, respectively. But Brady’s season has been as outstanding as any of his others, while Manning has suffered through one of the worst statistical campaigns of his career.   

It’s easy to see how many people assumed that the Patriots would go to the Super Bowl.

To be certain, a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback isn’t a necessity for a championship-winning team.  The Baltimore Ravens in 2000 with Trent Dilfer and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003 with Brad Johnson have all reigned victorious as Super Bowl champs thanks to exceptional defenses. 

Though he is limited by age and injury, Peyton Manning is anything but pedestrian and proved that with two passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 90.1 for the game.  Though down early, New England steadily crept back in the second half, outscoring the Broncos by a score of 9-3 over that span.

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)


But just when it appeared as though the New England dynasty, seen by some as a modern day evil empire, was primed for a comeback, the Denver defense, led by Von Miller's harassing pass rush on Brady and his 2 and 1/2 sacks and an interception, pressured the Patriots quarterback mercilessly.

Tom Brady dropped back to pass the ball an excessive amount with 57 attempts, most of which came in the second half as the Patriots offensive tried to make a proverbial dollar out of 15 cents. He weathered four sacks, two interceptions and multiple knockdowns but kept the Patriots close.

But a questionable play call to go for it in the red zone instead of kicking a field goal on 4th and 6 with 2:30 left was easily sniffed out and stopped by the swarming and ravenous Broncos defense.  The Patriots defense put in a yeoman's effort throughout, giving their offense one last chance to get some “get right”.

Tom Terrific completed two fourth-down conversions on the final drive, a 40-yard pass and a 4-yard TD pass both to Gronkowski, to pull the score to 20-18. But the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt was tipped and intercepted by Denver.

An onside kick recovery by the Broncos sealed the deal. This will mark the fourth time Manning has gone to the Super Bowl and eighth overall for the Denver franchise.

If Von Miller didn't get the game ball, then one should have been handed out to the entire Broncos defense.

Way to give the old man another shot at a title.