KUSA - Showing the muscle they've flexed all season, the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning pushed aside New England 26-16 on Sunday to earn the Broncos' first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1998 season.
Denver, which set numerous NFL offensive records in the regular season, had two long, sustained touchdown drives and added four Matt Prater field goals when they couldn't cross the goal line. After punting on their first drive, the Broncos scored on six consecutive possessions.
Meanwhile, the Broncos' defense muted the Patriots' running game and pressured quarterback Tom Brady.
The Broncos will play in their seventh Super Bowl, but first since Super Bowl XXXIII when they beat Atlanta after the 1998 season. That was John Elway's last game, and he returned to the Broncos' three years ago to build a Super Bowl team.
"It's been a terrific group," Elway said during the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation. "They've worked their tails off all season."
The Broncos will play the NFC's top seed Seattle, which beat San Francisco 23-17, on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The Broncos are 2-4 in the Super Bowl, winning for the first time after the 1997 season.
"This was a great game with two great organizations, and we just happened to come out on top," coach John Fox said.
Peyton Manning led Denver's two touchdown drives Sunday that took more than 14 minutes total. The Broncos came out for the second half and rolled out their longest touchdown drive of the season, which eclipsed their TD drive in the first half.
"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."
Denver went 80 yards in 7:08 to claim a 20-3 lead on Manning's 3-yard pass to DeMaryius Thomas, who got himself wide open in the end zone. The Patriots' defense in the second half was without cornerback Aqib Talib, who sustained a knee injury in the first half. The Broncos scored on a 7-minute drive in the first half.
"Talib's an excellent player," Manning said, "but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way."
Manning finished with 400 yards passing (32-of-43) and no interceptions.
And the Broncos' defense took a page from the offense, stopping the Patriots' fourth-and-2 try from the Broncos' 29-yard line on their ensuing possession. Terrance Knighton broke through the line for a 10-yard sack on Brady and keep the momentum with the home team. Brady was 24-of-38 passing for 277 yards.
Played in front of the second-largest crowd in Broncos history (77,110), Denver kept the crowd engaged all day with big offensive plays and solid defense.
"We got in a hole there," Brady said. "It was just too much to dig our way out."
After Denver took a 23-3 lead on Prater's third field goal of the day, the Patriots put together their first touchdown drive, going 80 yards to pull within 23-10 with 9½ minutes left in the game. Brady found Edelman for a 7-yard score to end a drive that took just 2½ minutes.
Denver made it a two-score game (26-10) with Prater's 54-yard field goal with 7:05 left in the game.
Again, Brady wasn't finished. He ran in from three yards out to pull within 26-16, but Shaun Phillips shut down the 2-point try.
With 3:07 left to play that 2-point stop and Eric Decker securing the ensuing onside kick secured the Broncos' spot in the Super Bowl.
Making a statement drive early, Denver went 93 yards in 15 plays to take a 10-0 lead with 7:50 left in the first half. Manning (44 yards on 4-of-7 passing) and Knowshon Moreno (41 yards on four carries) teamed to keep the drive rolling. Denver converted three third-down plays and chewed 7 minutes off the clock. It tied as their longest drive of the season to that point.
Moreno finished with 59 yards and left the game because of a chest injury.
New England responded and drove into the red zone for the first time. But a Robert Ayers sack of Brady on third-and-8 moved the Patriots back to the Broncos' 29-yard line, and New England had to settle for a 47-yard field goal to narrow the gap to 10-3 with 3 minutes left in the first half.
"The folks here in Denver - the city and the organization - sure have made me feel welcome. That sure has been very helpful," Manning said. "We've definitely come a long way in two years and bouncing back from last year's playoff loss to put ourselves in this position, it feels very gratifying."
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