For the first time since 2013, the Denver Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl. And they have their defense to thank for it. The Broncos defense harassed New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY all day long en route to a 20-18 victory over the Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Broncos quarterback PEYTON MANNING (17 of 32 for 176 yards, 2 touchdowns and no picks) who many thought wouldn’t even available this late in the season due to heel and foot injuries this season, did just enough today to will his team to victory. But today’s game wasn’t Manning’s game, it was the Broncos defense’s game.
Yes Brady threw for 310 yards, but those yards don’t tell the story of how much he was picked on and pushed around just about every time he dropped back to pass by the Bronco defense. Also he was 27 of 56 for just a 48.2% completion rate, with just 1 touchdown pass and 2 interceptions.
Brady who was nursing an ankle injury during the week leading up to this game, never really got into a rhythm because of constant pressure from the likes of Denver (14-4) outside linebackers VON MILLER and DEMARCUS WARE (2 tackles, o.5 sack), and defensive ends MALIK JACKSON and DEREK WOLFE (6 tackles, 1 sack).
Miller who 5 tackles which included a team leading 2.5 sacks in this game, was the main guy who was bothering Brady. By either rushing off the edge on the left side or right side, or through the middle as a pass rush inside linebacker, the Patriots didn’t really have an answer for him throughout this game.
Meanwhile, the Broncos in the 2015 offseason signed tight end OWEN DANIELS (was having trouble with both of his knees coming into this game) to a three-year $12.25 million deal to do what he did on the Broncos first offensive drive of today’s game. On 2nd and 11 from the NE 21 yard line, Manning took the snap and then he quickly connected with Daniels, who got behind the Patriots defense to snare a 21 yard scoring pass. That was just the second postseason scoring pass of Daniels’ 10-year career, but that big play gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead with 7:32 left in the first quarter.
Daniels finished the game with 2 catches for 33 yards and 2 scores. Surprisingly, Daniels wasn’t thrown to at all in the second half as the Broncos were more concerned with their other offensive weapons.
Broncos running back RONNIE HILLMAN wasn’t ready for a late 1st quarter Manning backwards pass, so Patriots linebacker JONATHAN FREENY picked up the ball that Hillman wasn’t ready for and took the ball up field. The play was blown dead as Freeny tried to advance the ball, but the play was later challenged by Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK because he thought the play was a fumble. It turned out the referees agreed with Belichick and the Patriots took over possession of the ball the DEN 22 yard line.
Freeny’s fumble recovery set up a 1 yard touchdown run by running back STEVEN JACKSON who didn’t meet much resistance to get into the end zone. With 1:49 left in the first quarter and after placekicker STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI’S missed extra point the score went to 7-6.
That missed extra point by Gostkowski was super rare for the kicker. That missed extra point was his first since his rookie season, when he missed an extra point versus the Tennessee Titans in Week 17 on December 31, 2006.
Later, Daniels outmaneuvered the Patriots defense again, when he got behind Patriots outside linebacker JAMIE COLLINS (8 tackles, 2 sacks) for a 12 yard touchdown reception that the tight end caught while trying to stay in bounds near the right middle corner of the end zone. With 13:46 left in the first half the Broncos furthered their lead to 14-6.
Later in the second quarter the Broncos defense forced a Gostkowski field goal, when Ware beat Patriots left tackle SEBASTIAN VOLLMER around the corner to help Miller sack Brady for a 6 yard loss. On 4th and 9, Gostkowski came in and sent a high and strong kick 46 yards through the uprights to cut the Broncos lead to 14-9 with 7:03 left in the second quarter.
On 4th down and 3 and after a left sideline incompletion intended for receiver DEMARYIUS THOMAS, Broncos placekicker BRANDON MCMANUS sent a 52 yard field goal through the uprights for a 17-9 Broncos lead with just 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
After a three-quarter lull as far as the running game was concerned, running back C.J. ANDERSON (16 carries for 72 yards) on the third play of the fourth quarter, took a Manning handoff down the left sideline for a 30 yard gain to the NE 22 yard line where he was pushed out of bounds by Patriots free safety DEVIN MCCOURTY. That run ended up setting up a successful 31 yard field goal by McManus, which put the Broncos up 20-12 with 10:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Just like a star player would be apt to do, Gronkowski on 4th and 10 from midfield, bailed out his team with a 40 yard reception versus double coverage to the DEN 10 yard line. This play took place with around 1:35 remaining in the contest. Then Gronkowski answered that play with a back of the end zone 4 yard touchdown reception. With 12 seconds left in the game the Patriots pulled to within 20-18. On the next play though that was to be a two-point conversion instance, Broncos cornerback AQIB TALIB tipped Brady’s pass into the hands of his teammate BRADLEY ROBY who returned the pick up field where he fumbled. But it didn’t matter because at this point, the Broncos had the game in the bag and they had time on their side.
Then Gostkowski executed an onside kick that was recovered at the NE 40 by backup Denver defensive back SHILOH KEO. Keo recovered the onside kick and then dove forward to the NE 38. Manning came in on the next play and took care of one kneel down and the game was in the books.
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