In an AFC championship for the ages, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos met on Sunday night at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Denver, the top seeded team for the playoffs, seeking to ahem…deflate the typical postseason brilliance of Tom Brady, while the Patriots, the number two seed, sought to stifle Denver’s own legendary quarterback, one Peyton Manning. And in terms of stifling…well, let’s just say both defenses did Archie Bunker proud.
Manning, coming off a noticeably shaky regular season performance had to hope his defense would show up, and that his injury ridden body could stand another four quarters of championship football. Brady, on the other hand, coming off a season in which he’s an MVP candidate, had his work cut out for him, going against Denver’s #1 defense.
But right from the beginning, it was an uncharacteristically timid start from New England’s offense. A short drive that led to a punt, followed on their next drive by a three-and-out set a tone of strife that New England would struggle to truly alter for the rest of the game. Denver’s defensive line rolled over the Patriots all game, rarely affording Brady a free moment in the pocket. Even the one touchdown the Patriots etched out in the first half was dampened when Stephen Gostkowski, one of the most consistent kickers in NFL history, shanked the PAT, leaving Denver with a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. And, oh Steve, how the past it will haunt you.
Denver’s offense, on the other hand, came out rolling, scoring two touchdowns and field goal in the first half. Both touchdowns, notably, being passes from an in-form Manning who (no doubt bolstered by a rowdy Denver crowd) showed no signs of physical or mental weakness. At the half, Denver led 17-9.
It was in the second half, however, that New England’s defense turned their game up to eleven. Finally pressuring Manning, all three of New England’s sacks came in the second half, and they held Denver to a total of three points over the final two quarters.
But New England’s offensive woes continued long into the second half, with Brady and company failing to score touchdowns on multiple trips into the red zone. When New England did finally score a touchdown with :12 seconds remaining in the game, it was indeed Gostkowski’s missed extra point that came back to haunt them. Down by two points instead of one, New England was forced into a do-or-die two-point conversion, which Denver’s defense stubbornly rejected, sending the Patriots packing from Mile High Stadium, with a final score of 18-20, and sending the elated Broncos to Super Bowl 50.