Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning was thirsty. Standing behind
the podium, the quarterback drew laughs when he said all he wanted was a beer.
"What's weighing on my mind," he said, "is how soon I can get a Bud Light in
You could hardly blame him.
Manning threw two touchdown passes and the Denver Broncos reached the AFC
Championship Game for the first time in eight years after hanging on to beat
the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday.
The Chargers, who played Denver tougher than any team this season, made a game
out of it when they cut a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to seven points
after two 16-yard touchdown catches by Keenan Allen and a successful onside
kick that led to a field goal with 3:53 remaining.
But Manning completed two third-down passes to tight end Julius Thomas and the
Broncos picked up one more first down on their last drive to earn revenge for
a 27-20 loss to the Chargers last month in their worst offensive performance
of the season.
"If we got it one more time I believe deep down we would have tied that thing
up," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Manning threw for 230 yards with touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas and Wes
Welker, who returned from a concussion, and Knowshon Moreno had a 3-yard
touchdown run in between Chargers scores in the fourth quarter.
Rivers passed for 217 yards and Allen had six catches for 142 but the Chargers
fell short on what would have been a stunning comeback against the top-seeded
The Chargers held the Broncos -- the first NFL team ever to score 600 points
-- under 30 points for the third time this season, but couldn't keep the ball
out of Manning's hands long enough.
"The character of our players showed up," said Chargers coach and former
Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. "We kept on fighting to the bitter
With his new, pesky divisional rival out of the way, Manning will face another
familiar foe next Sunday when the Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England
Patriots in the AFC title game.
Manning, who set NFL record for touchdown passes and passing yards during the
regular season, is 4-10 against Brady and the Patriots, including 0-2 with
Denver. The quarterbacks split a pair of AFC title games when Manning was the
The Patriots rallied from a 24-0 deficit to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime
on Nov. 24, and they routed Manning's old team Saturday, beating the Colts
43-22 behind four rushing touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.
The sixth-seeded Chargers, after beating Cincinnati on the road in last week's
Wild Card Round, had a five-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Mathews rushed
five times for 26 yards after missing practice all week with an ankle injury.
The Broncos held the Chargers scoreless until 2:01 into the fourth quarter
when Allen hauled in Rivers' pass over his left shoulder in the front right
corner of the end zone to get San Diego within 17-7.
An illegal block penalty negated Trindon Holliday's touchdown return from the
end zone on the ensuing kickoff, but the Broncos scored on Moreno's 3-yard run
after a 23-yard pass interference on third down kept their drive alive.
Allen had a 49-yard catch on fourth down, then stretched his second touchdown
reception over the line with 5:43 left. Denver wide receiver Eric Decker let
the high onside kick go off his chest and San Diego recovered, leading to Nick
Novak's 30-yard field goal.
But Manning completed passes of 21 and nine yards to Thomas on a pair of third
downs and Moreno picked up the last first down on a 5-yard run to seal it.
"To run (four) minutes off the clock at the end of the game, that was big-time
football right there," said Manning. "We'll enjoy this one."
The Broncos had built a 14-0 lead in the first half on touchdown catches by
Demaryius Thomas and Welker but missed an opportunity for more when Chargers
linebacker Donald Butler intercepted Manning in the end zone before halftime.
Earlier, Manning's 2-yard throw to Demaryius Thomas just over the goal line
made it 7-0 after a seven-minute drive in the first quarter that included 14
plays for 86 yards.
Julius Thomas was stripped by safety Jahleel Addae early in the second quarter
but Novak was wide-left on a 53-yard field goal try for the Chargers after the
fumble, slipping as he planted for the kick.
The Broncos then went 57 yards in nine plays, the last Welker's 3-yard catch
in the front corner of the end zone with six minutes left in the half.
Later, Decker broke at least four tackles on a 47-yard punt return before he
tripped himself up at the San Diego 30.
Decker was the intended target on Manning's pass into the back of the end zone
on third down from the 4-yard line, but the pass glanced off his chest and
Butler got both feet down for the pick with 30 seconds left in the half.
Holliday's 37-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter set up Matt
Prater's 45-yard field goal for a 17-0 Broncos lead. Prater's kick went just
over the right upright. The Broncos kicker missed a 47-yard try wide-left on
Denver's next drive.
The Sports Network