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What pressure? Peyton Manning steps up vs. Patriots

Here's something you probably knew, but I feel compelled to bring up anyway: Peyton Manning was under serious pressure Sunday.

The historic regular season was nice, as was last week's playoff win and the unprecedented fifth MVP award that will follow in 12 days. But if Manning fell short to a Tom Brady-led New England Patriots team -- again -- everything else would be a footnote to another lost season.

Not exactly fair, but this is the price of greatness at Manning's level. The quarterback entered January with a 9-11 postseason record, including a 1-3 mark against Brady. Another loss on this stage would darken an ugly blemish on an otherwise brilliant career and provide endless fodder for the vocal minority who attempt to marginalize his career accomplishments.

Which is why Manning deserves so much credit for his performance in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. With the weight of the world of his shoulders, Manning played like he was breezing through a 7-on-7 drill in late August. He was a surgeon, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes for exactly 400 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Denver Broncos' 26-16 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at midnight ET.

» NFL Network schedule

Manning made it look easy. He completed passes to seven different receivers, kept the offense on the field for more than 35 minutes and engineered an attack that piled up more than 500 total yards. The Broncos scored on six straight drives, and would've made it seven if the clock didn't run out. It was a masterful offensive performance in a remarkable season.

Manning's not done yet. He has one more game left, a game that could solidify his resume as the greatest quarterback ever. The pressure will build for two more weeks, but do you really still doubt him?

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