Peyton Manning, Broncos rip Patriots to reach Super Bowl

Peyton Manning had an answer for everyone. What’s new?

For Tom Brady. For the New England defense. For anyone who thought he couldn’t win the big one.

Manning is taking the Denver Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories — this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC title game.

Less than three years after being unable to throw a football because of his surgically ravaged neck and nerve endings, Manning will get a chance for his second ring. He’ll try to become the first quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle or San Francisco, who play later Sunday for the NFC championship.

After taking the final knee, Manning stuffed the football in his helmet and ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against New England’s QB but 2-1 in AFC title games.

It was far from a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment of the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of their generation. But Manning, who finished 32 for 43 for 400 yards and two short touchdown passes, set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.

Manning geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: A pair of scoring drives that lasted a few seconds over seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).

Manning capped the second with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas — who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch — for a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats, and they are not built for that.

A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three weeks didn’t have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.

The trip to New York, where it figures to be at least a tad cooler than Sunday’s 63-degree reading at kickoff, will come 15 years after John Elway rode off into the sunset with his second straight Super Bowl victory.

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