Peyton Manning had an answer for everyone. What’s new?
For Tom Brady. For the New England defense. For anyone who thought he couldn’t win the big one.
Manning is taking the Denver Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories — this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC title game.
Less than three years after being unable to throw a football because of his surgically ravaged neck and nerve endings, Manning will get a chance for his second ring. He’ll try to become the first quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle or San Francisco, who play later Sunday for the NFC championship.
“It’s very rewarding when you put a lot of hard work into the offseason and the regular season and it pays dividends with a huge win,” Manning said.
After taking the final knee, Manning stuffed the football in his helmet and ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against New England’s QB but 2-1 in AFC title games.
“Great team, great coach, great quarterback, great players,” Manning said of the Patriots, who fell a win short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year. “It feels great to get this win.”
Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it was far from a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment of the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of their generation. Manning set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.
He geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: A pair of scoring drives that lasted a few seconds over seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).
Manning capped the second with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas — who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch — for a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats (13-5), and they are not built for that.
A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three games didn’t have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.
The trip to New York, where it figures to be at least a tad cooler than Sunday’s 63-degree reading at kickoff, will come 15 years after John Elway rode off into the sunset with his second straight Super Bowl victory.
The Broncos have had one close call since — when they lost at home to Pittsburgh in the 2005 title game — but what it really took was Elway’s return to the franchise in 2011. He slammed the door on the Tim Tebow experiment and signed Manning to a contract, knowing there were risks involved in bringing to town a thirtysomething quarterback coming off multiple operations to resurrect his career.
Even without Von Miller on the field, Elway put enough pieces in place around Manning to contend for a championship.
“It’s been a terrific group,” Elway said as he hoisted the AFC championship trophy. “They worked their tail off all year.”
Manning knows how to make the most of all those options he’s been handed.
This game started getting out of hand at about the same time Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went out with a knee injury. Nobody else could cover Thomas and Manning, who finds mismatches even under the toughest of circumstances, found this one quickly.
Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards, including receptions of 26 and 27 yards that set up a field goal for a 13-3 lead before the half. Not a bad day for a player who tweaked his knee last week and was limited in practice Friday.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to put it all out there on the field,”’ Thomas said. “It’s one more game to get to the Super Bowl. Time to do it for the older guys on team.”
Of course, that includes the 37-year-old Manning, but also 35-year-old Champ Bailey, whose injury filled season will end with his first trip to the Super Bowl.
Leading 13-3, Denver got the ball to start the third quarter — working the plan to perfection after winning the coin toss and deferring the choice — and Manning hit Thomas for 15 and 4 yards as part of the 80-yard, 7:08 touchdown drive that gave Denver the 17-point lead.
The thought this week was that the Patriots were playing with house money, having well exceeded expectations for a team that lost a number of stars — Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski — and has been plagued by injuries all year.
But a loss is a loss and facts are facts. Bill Belichick is stuck on three titles and hasn’t won one since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.
The Broncos, meanwhile, got over a big hump last week by beating the Chargers in the divisional round, which is where last year’s trip fizzled unexpectedly against Baltimore.
Manning insisted the showdown against Brady was more Broncos vs. Patriots than Manning vs. Brady. He lets others decide who’s the greatest at this or that.
But he earned a chance to improve on his already-sterling legacy, one that figures to include a fifth MVP award come Super Bowl week.
A win at MetLife Stadium in two weeks would put him in the same company as his brother, Eli, along with Elway, Roger Staubach and others as a two-time Super Bowl winner.
Two weeks for Manning to prepare might feel like a lifetime.
At times, his long, difficult comeback has felt that way, too.
“It’s very gratifying to be part of this team,” Manning said. “We kept our nose to the grindstone, kept persevering. It feels good to get this win today.”
Peyton Manning had an answer for everyone. What’s new?
Fairmont Senior closes out East Fairmont for Section 1 title: PHOTOS
When they cut down the nets Friday night at the Woody Williams Armory, the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears were the ones holding the scissors.
Each player took home a piece of the twine, a small memento from a 59-51 victory over East Fairmont in the Section 1 championship game.
Cooper leads FSU past Bobcats, 70-62
Brendan Cooper played liked a first-team all-league selection even though he strangely wasn't, and Chase Morgan did what he does best in the game's final 1:18 – hit shots.
The result was a 70-62 Fairmont State victory over fifth-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan Friday evening in the quarterfinals of the Mountain East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Buie returns to WVU after a year away
It’s nearly every little boy’s dream to become a college football athlete, to play in a stadium before 60,000, 70,000, 100,000 fans, to wear the colors of a university proudly. There are cheerleaders and groupies; there’s your name in headlines, your picture in the newspapers.
WVU looks to back up Huggins’ prediction
It was after Kansas defeated West Virginia University, 83-69, a month ago in Lawrence, Bob Huggins reached into his deep library of inspirational sayings and came out with one from Abe Lemons, of all people, the one-time Texas coach who never was at a loss for words.
TCU tough matchup for WVU women
West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey is trying to find a happy balance now for his team as it enters its second season, the Big 12 Tournament.
West Liberty, Glenville, Charleston advance to MEC semi-final
Charleston out-lasted Wheeling Jesuit, 91-85, in overtime in the first quarterfinal of the Mountain East Conference Tournament presented by GoMart on Friday afternoon.
Andre Harris, who finished with a game-high 22 points, picked up a steal and then converted a traditional three-point play to put Wheeling Jesuit up 76-73 with :21 seconds left.
5 memorable college hoops tourney buzzer beaters
It's March, which means the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner. But before March Madness takes hold, the conference tournaments, which get under way this week, often provide their own share of exciting finishes. Here are five memorable buzzer beaters from conference tournament play.
Fairmont Senior bullies Ritchie County to claim regional title: PHOTOS
While remnants of a winter storm remained outside of the Woody Williams Armory, No. 1 Fairmont Senior was on fire inside, beating Ritchie County, 69-31, for the Region I title.
It was business as usual for Fairmont Senior, which will advance to the state tournament beginning next Wednesday in Charleston.
North Marion tops Webster, 76-48
North Marion rebounded from a sectional championship loss to beat Webster County, 76-48, on the road Thursday night to punch its ticket to the state tournament.
The Lady Huskies, which had four of their five starters in double figures, used a team effort to get the win.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete
In the end, with Bob Huggins, they count victories and losses, and he has always been one to pile up the victories while keeping the losses to a minimum, at least until the last two seasons at West Virginia University.
And, in the end, when he tries to analyze why the losses have come rather than the victories, he comes to understand that he just doesn’t have the manpower to compete.
- More Sports Headlines
- Fairmont Senior closes out East Fairmont for Section 1 title: PHOTOS