By Pat Imig
Cold Hard Football Facts Extended Manning Family Member (@patrickimig)
The Denver Broncos are going to their 7th Super Bowl in franchise history (2-4 record) following their 26-16 victory in the AFC Championship. For Peyton Manning, it's a small victory over his naysayers, one that will be further accentuated if he can capture his second Super Bowl ring in two weeks.
On Sunday in Denver, Manning dissected and dominated New England's defense. He completed 32/43 passes for 400 yards, with two touchdowns and zero turnovers (118.3 Passer Rating).
He dictated the flow of the game and crippled New England's offense in the first half. Yes, Manning and his offense proved to be the best defense for the Patriots newfound running game.
It wasn't just the stats that highlight Manning's AFC Championship performance, however. He manipulated and managed the game flawlessly, calling plays at the line of scrimmage and changing on cue based on what the defense showed. A perfect example took place on the team's third possession.
On 3rd & 10 with 10:31 to go in the second quarter, Manning changed the play at the line of scrimmage by yelling words such as "Batman" and "Omaha"; the play resulted in a 28-yard first down run for Knowshon Moreno.
The Broncos would finish off the drive with their first touchdown of the game, a Manning touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme.
The touchdown-scoring drive netted 15 plays, 93 yards and a 10-0 lead. It was the longest touchdown-scoring drive of the season for the Broncos, until their second touchdown-scoring drive of the afternoon in the third quarter.
Had it not been for Manning's management at the line of scrimmage, specifically on that 3rd & 10 play, the Broncos might punt to end the drive, changing the entire complexion of the game.
Manning's biggest supporters point to these unkept stats as proof of his greatness and superiority over his peers.
It isn't just the gaudy numbers in the boxscore and the win column, it's the management and manipulation of the game. On Sunday, Manning painted a masterpiece.
Unfortunately for Peyton, if the Broncos don't win the Super Bowl, this game will be forgotten and neglected by his harshest critics.
MANNING WAS A SHARK WHO SMELLED BLOOD AND ATTACKED
We've already labeled Manning a "manipulator", "dictator" and "manager" of the game, so why not offer up one more?
He was a shark who smelled blood in the water when New England cornerback Aquib Talib left with a rib injury and knee injury. Talib thwarted Demaryius Thomas in the Week 12 Broncos overtime loss.
In his absence Sunday afternoon, Manning and Thomas connected at will with seven catches for 134 yards and one touchdown proving that turnabout is indeed fair play.
In last week's AFC Divisional game, the Broncos lost cornerback Chris Harris to a torn ACL. Soon after, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen connected six times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Indeed, turnabout is fair play.
When Manning wasn't throwing to Demaryius Thomas, he was making big gains to tight end Julius Thomas.
Thomas, who was absent in the Week 12 loss to New England, caught eight passes for 85 yards, including a key catch in the fourth quarter that set up Matt Prater's 54-yard field goal.
Prater, by the way, was a lethally perfect 4/4 in field goals.
All told, the Denver offense and special teams churned out 26 points, 507 yards and 71 plays, and held nearly a 12-minute advantage in time of possession.
LASTING LEGACY: MANNING IS 2-1 AGAINST BRADY IN AFC TITLE GAMES
Even if Manning fails to win his second Super Bowl, he is now 2-for-3 in AFC Championship games against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
His 36 postseason touchdowns rank fourth all time behind Tom Brady (43), Brett Favre (44) and Joe Montana (45). His 11-11 postseason record ranks him seventh all time in playoff victories.
With a victory in the Super Bowl, Manning will crack the list of greatest quarterbacks of all time to his harshest critics. If that isn't enough, nothing will ever please his doubters.
DENVER DEFENSE: "HEY, DON'T FORGET ABOUT US!"
While much of the credit for the Broncos win on Sunday goes to Manning and the offense, Denver's defense stiffened and knocked Tom Brady around in the second half. Brady was sacked twice and was constantly under pressure. He was uncomfortable and unsettled and was left with no choice but to throw the ball away on various occasions.
Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton had the most impact on the defensive side of the ball. He made life miserable for Brady and New England running game. While Peyton Manning and the Denver offense was the elixir in the first half, Knighton made plays in the backfield in the final thirty minutes to ensure victory.
The former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman spent about one minute in free agency this past off-season when his former head coach and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio called him to tell him to join the Broncos.
On Sunday, Del Rio and the Broncos were rewarded again; Knighton sacked Tom Brady and added three other tackles.
Speaking of Del Rio, he was the interim head coach for the Broncos in their Week 12 overtime loss in New England.
On Sunday, head coach John Fox got his first crack at Belichick and the Patriots this season and succeeded.
As head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, Fox has an 8-5 postseason record as he enters his second Super Bowl as head coach.