The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Pro

January 19, 2014

Manning leads Denver to first Super Bowl in 15 seasons

DENVER — Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.

The connection: Flawless, as usual.

The keepsake: Certainly one he’ll want to hang on to.

The Broncos quarterback had an answer for everyone Sunday – from Tom Brady to the New England defense to anyone who thought he couldn’t win the big one.

Manning is taking the 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.

“Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there,” Manning said.

Especially this time.

He’s less than three years removed from being unable to throw a football because of his surgically ravaged neck and nerve endings, and a bit over a year has passed since a devastating loss to Baltimore derailed what looked like a Super Bowl trip in his comeback season.

A year later, however, Manning will get his chance for his second Super Bowl ring. He’ll try to become the first starting quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle, who defeated San Fancisco for the NFC championship.

“He’s been remarkable,” said Broncos coach John Fox, off to his second Super Bowl as a head coach. “It’s unprecedented what he did.”

After packing away his football, Manning ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. A bit later in the locker room, he celebrated with his father, Archie, and brothers Cooper and Eli, the Giants quarterback who surprised Peyton much the way Peyton surprised him by showing up at the NFC title game two years ago.

The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against Brady, but is now 2-1 in AFC title games.

Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it more dink-and-dunk than a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment of the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of a 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: 93- and 80-yard touchdown drives that each lasted a few seconds over seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).

The Broncos held the ball for 35:44. They were 7 for 13 on third-down conversions.

“To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing,” Manning said. “That’s something you try to do when you’re playing the Patriots.”

Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver 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 – at least not this year.

“We got in a hole there,” Brady said. “It was just too much to dig our way out.”

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.

“Losing is never easy,” Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said. “But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it’s a little bit easier to swallow.”

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 season’s AFC 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 thirty-something 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 move within a game of the championship.

Thomas. Wes Welker (four catches, 38 yards). Eric Decker (5-73). Tight end Julius Thomas (8-85).

“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 the options he’s been given.

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.

“Talib’s an excellent player,” Manning said, “but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way.”

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.

Denver got the ball to start the third quarter 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.

“Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning,” Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said. “He’s a smart player and able to make adjustments when he needs to.”

New England came up a win short of the Super Bowl for the second straight year.

The thought this week was that Bill Belichick’s team was 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. Belichick is stuck on three titles and hasn’t won one since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.

“There were a lot of opportunities in the game that if we were able to coach better, play better, execute better in any of those areas, it would have given us a chance,” Belichick said.

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 this week’s 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 leave him holding his fifth MVP trophy come Super Bowl week.

A win at MetLife Stadium in two weeks would put him in the same company brother Eli, along with Elway, Roger Staubach and a few 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 like a lifetime, too.

“We’ve definitely come a long way in two years,” Manning said. “And bouncing back from last year’s playoff loss to put ourselves in this position, it definitely feels very gratifying.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Pro
  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pirates Game 1 0415 Pirates edge out Reds in suspended game

    After all those home runs and an overnight delay, it was settled by a single.
    Andrew McCutchen doubled and came around on Russell Martin’s single in the seventh inning on Tuesday, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the completion of a game that spanned two days and 10 home runs.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0414 Pressure on Penguins to capture Cup

    The statistics are gaudy.
    And if the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t find a way to extend their season into the final days of spring, ultimately forgettable.
    The same team that led the NHL in man games lost due to injury (more than 500) also earned 109 points, led the Metropolitan Division from mid-October on and received another peerless effort from star Sidney Crosby, who topped the league with 104 points and is a near lock for the second MVP award of his career.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0413 Brewers sweep away Pirates

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Senators dump Penguins in shootout

    April 13, 2014

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads