That missed extra-point attempt Sunday loomed large for the New England Patriots.
It forced the Patriots to attempt a two-point conversion on their last drive. Broncos defensive back Aqib Talib tipped Tom Brady’s pass and Bradley Roby intercepted to secure a 20-18 victory in the AFC Championship Game.
The Broncos will play in their eighth Super Bowl, this time in Santa Clara, Calif. They will face the winner of Sunday night’s Arizona Cardinals-Carolina Panthers matchup in Charlotte.
Brady had a miserable day mostly courtesy of outside linebacker Von Miller. When Miller wasn’t getting sacks, he picked off one of Brady’s passes. But Brady drove to the Patriots to a potentially tying touchdown in the last minute, finding tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 4-yard completion.
The Patriots had no running game to speak of, so Brady constantly was back to pass in what became a very leaky pocket. It didn’t help the Patriots’ cause any that Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra-point try during the first half.
Trailing by eight in the fourth quarter, New England drove deep into Broncos territory. The Patriots went for it on 4th-and-1, turning over possession on downs.
New England got back possession with less than five minutes left and Gronkowski got the Patriots to the 28 on a reception over the middle. Holding on linebacker Brandon Marshall gave the Patriots a first down 18 yards from the end zone.
The Patriots gave up possession with 2 1/2 minutes left when Brady, under a heavy rush, lofted the ball into the end zone on 4th-and-6. Three Broncos surrounded Gronkowski and the pass fell incomplete. The Broncos punted, giving the ball back to New England at midfield at the two-minute warning.
Three who mattered
Miller: His pass rush made for a miserable day for Brady.
Emmanuel Sanders: Peyton Manning’s favorite target made a spectacular leaping catch in the first half.
Manning: For an “old man” he sure did look spry on that 12-yard scramble for a first down.
▪ It might not be quite as loud at a Broncos game as it is in Seattle, but that’s for no lack of trying. The vibrations when all the fans stomp their feet are like a South Carolina game when they play Sandstorm.
▪ Among those in attendance, Stanford Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey. His father played for the Broncos and he grew up in Denver.
▪ Just before halftime the Denver Police Department tweeted out some great snark: “MISSING PERSONS unit heading to @SportsAuthField to try and locate Patriots offense.”
▪ Didn’t look like many Broncos fans sold their tickets – hardly a Patriots jersey to be found in the stands.
▪ Even by NFL standards, Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch is a massive human being at 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds. He crunched on Manning for a first-half sack.
▪ Believe it or not, the two longest rushes through three quarters were by Manning and Brady.
▪ What were the odds Denver would have less snow on the ground Sunday than Charlotte?
▪ Brady threw so many risky passes, but that’s what tends to happen to teams with no running game.
They said it
▪ “We have seen that resilience his whole career. … The resilience he does have has made him a great competitor and he keeps coming back.” – Broncos executive vice president John Elway on Manning.
▪ “It means the world to me. John gave me a chance to come back to my football home.” – Broncos coach Gary Kubiak.
▪ “To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special. Just an awesome effort by our entire team tonight.” – Manning.