Manning-Brady 17 came down to one play. But Manning and Brady were only supporting actors Sunday to the Denver Broncos' defensive show, so it's only fitting that the unit made the difference on the final play of Denver's 20-18 victory.
Needing a two-point conversion to send another Brady-Manning classic to overtime, Tom Brady was immediately pressured by DeMarcus Ware and Brandon Marshall on the play. It was like so many of Brady's dropbacks on Sunday. He didn't have time to think, and the Broncos forced him into an uncomfortable decision while rolling to his right.
Brady chose to throw across his body to Julian Edelman, the ball was tipped by Aqib Talib, and ultimately picked off by Bradley Roby. This has been an insanely good and deep Broncos defense all season. And they showed it again all day, harassing Brady into mistakes and making plays at every level. They recorded 20 (!) hits on Brady, the highest number we've ever seen. Stephen Gostkowski's missed extra point ultimately meant the Patriots had to make one more play Sunday, and they couldn't make it happen.
"It was a tough day, man, a tough day," Brady said after the game.
It's a minor miracle that the Patriots were even in position to send the game to overtime. The season came down to one play three different times late Sunday afternoon, with Brady and Rob Gronkowski making the impossible happen twice to give the Patriots a chance.
Gronkowski, who looked hobbled, caught a 40-yard bomb on fourth-and-10 on the Patriots' final drive. Facing fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line, Brady threw a prayer up for grabs to the back of the end zone. Gronk fought off a defender and delivered. That's why we were surprised Gronkowski wasn't targeted on the final play.
Despite what the CBS broadcast said, Gronkowski was not double-teamed on the two-point conversion. Broncos safety Shiloh Keo had him in single coverage and Gronkowski actually had some open ground to work with after Brady bought some time. But Brady was locked into Edelman on the play, and the Broncos defense did the rest.
Two of the best players in NFL history were on the field Sunday, but the Broncos defense made all the biggest plays, including the last one.