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Broncos smother Patriots, advance to Super Bowl 50

The Broncos are going to Super Bowl 50. Bradley Roby intercepted Tom Brady's two-point conversion attempt, thwarting the New England Patriots' bid for overtime in Denver's 20-18 AFC Championship Game victory. Here's what you need to know:

  1. The quarterbacking might not have lived up to the pre-game hype, but Brady vs. Manning XVII proved to be an instant classic. After taking more hits (20) than any quarterback in a single game all season, Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski on a 40-yard strike to convert one fourth-and-10, and followed that up with an improvised touchdown to convert fourth-and-goal, giving the Patriots a chance to tie with 12 seconds remaining. Aqib Talib tipped Brady's rushed pass intended for Julian Edelman, catapulting Peyton Manning into his fourth Super Bowl.
  1. The Broncos' front seven overwhelmed the Patriots' porous offensive line and destroyed Brady's timing, forcing him to see ghosts in the pocket. Brady's first-half passer rating of 18.1 was the lowest by any postseason quarterback in the past five years. He was off target most of the afternoon, with more than a half-dozen passes underthrown and several more overthrown.

Too explosive for lethargic right tackle Marcus Cannon, Von Miller stole the show with four QB hits, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and an interception while DeMarcus Ware hit Brady a whopping seven times. Channeling J.J. Watt of late, Derek Wolfe contributed four QB hits of his own in addition to a sack and a batted pass. Despite rushing only four and dropping seven into coverage, Denver's pass rushers hit Brady on 36 percent of his dropbacks while Darian Stewart, T.J. Ward and Shiloh Keo made Edelman and Danny Amendola pay on the Patriots' trademark slants and crossing routes over the middle. This was a return of the dominant Denver defense that drew comparisons to the 2000 Ravens earlier in the season.

  1. Manning will become the first quarterback in NFL history to play in multiple Super Bowls for two different teams. Although he showed improved mobility and engineered one of his most impressive touchdown drives of the season on Denver's first series, Manning was shut down for the final three quarters. His inability to pick up a first down on a pair of late fourth-quarter possessions gave Brady a chance for a potential game-tying touchdown.
  1. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak was extremely lucky that the NFL's nebulous catch rule resurfaced on a dubious fourth-quarter challenge. Amendola caught a pass, took several steps and had the ball stripped just after his knee touched down. Head official Ed Hochuli ruled that Amendola's catch was not actually a catch, saving Kubiak from a fresh set of downs for the Patriots inside the Broncos' 10-yard line.
  1. The Patriots sorely missed injured running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount. Brady's 11-yard scramble was New England's longest run on a day in which he led the ground "attack" with 13 yards. Steven Jackson was an afterthought, carrying the ball just four times for eight yards. Mismatched against Denver's linebackers, James White came up just short on three crucial fourth-quarter floaters that Patriots fans grew accustomed to seeing Lewis haul in early this season.
  1. Playing through a back injury, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins was a major factor for both teams. He sacked Manning twice, flushed him from the pocket several more times and totaled three tackles for loss. On the flip side, he got caught peeking in the backfield while matched up with Owen Daniels on both of the tight end's first-half touchdowns.
  1. Denver's massive edge in special teams was a major factor for the second consecutive week. They dominated field position, forcing Brady to start drives in the shadow of his own end zone. Brandon McManus drilled field goals of 52 and 31 yards after nailing five kicks last week. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, on the other hand, missed his first extra point in 523 career attempts. That miss changed the complexion of the game, ultimately forcing New England to go for the two-point conversion instead of a chip-shot kick to send the game to overtime.

"I lost the game," Gostkowski said afterwards, per Boston Herald.

  1. Brady and Manning were each responsible for their team's longest run through three quarters. Per Next Gen Stats, Brady topped out at 16.18 mph on his first-down scramble while Manning reached 15.38 mph on his own scamper. For frame of reference, Eddie Lacy's 61-yard run in the NFC Divisional Round produced a peak speed of 16.34 mph. The league's fastest quarterbacks, such as Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert, flirt with 21 mph.
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