Monday, June 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Broncos rally to beat Steelers; Patriots up next

DENVER — Get ready for Brady-Manning XVII.

Peyton Manning earned one more and possibly final game against his rival by leading the Broncos to a come-from-behind 23-16 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers on a blustery Sunday.

That sets up an AFC Championship Game next weekend in Denver against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Manning and Brady have squared off 16 times, a full season's worth of matchups between quarterbacks whose careers are so intertwined that a conversation about one almost has to include the other — like Bird vs. Magic or Ali vs. Frazier.

"It'll be the Broncos vs. the Patriots," Manning said of the AFC's top two seeds, both 13-4. "We'll enjoy this one tonight. I think you knew that answer was coming. To kind of quote Bill Belichick, we'll be on to New England. But I'll be talking about them on Wednesday."

Football fans won't wait that long.

Brady has beaten Manning's teams 11 times, but they're 2-2 in the playoffs, including Denver's 26-16 win in the conference title game two years ago. This game marks just the seventh time Manning will face Brady at home.

The 17th chapter was slated for November before Manning went out with a foot injury that pushed longtime backup Brock Osweiler into the starting — and starring — role as Denver won 30-24 in overtime.

Manning returned in the season finale, his cameo propelling the Broncos past San Diego and into the AFC's No. 1 seed that ensures Brady & Co. will have to play at altitude in their record-tying fifth consecutive trip to the AFC title game.

Despite a strong wind, Denver's Brandon McManus tied an NFL playoff record by converting all five of his field goal attempts, and Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell made all three of his.

With Denver down 13-12 with 9:52 left, cornerback Bradley Roby, burned time and again, punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint's arms and defensive end DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Denver 35-yard line.

"I could have protected the ball a little bit more," said Toussaint, who scored his first career touchdown in the first half, the only one for the Steelers (11-7). "Obviously, they made a great play. You've got to give them credit, but in that situation, I put it on myself."

Manning — 21-of-37 for 222 yards — went to work, driving Denver to its only touchdown, a 1-yard run by C.J. Anderson. Demaryius Thomas' catch on the 2-point conversion put Denver ahead 20-13 with 3:00 left.

That was Manning's 55th winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, extending one of the dozen NFL records he owns.

Ware's sack ended Pittsburgh's next drive, and McManus kicked his fifth field goal, joking it was such a tricky crosswind that he just kept aiming "at the guy holding the beer in the top left corner."

Boswell hit a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left, but Anderson, who gained 72 yards on 15 carries, recovered Pittsburgh's onside kick to end it.

Roethlisberger completed 24 of 37 passes for 339 yards against the league's top-ranked defense despite playing with a sore right shoulder and missing his top receiver — Antonio Brown (concussion) — and rusher — DeAngelo Williams (foot). Martavis Bryant had nine catches for 154 yards.

"The bottom line is, you lose the turnover battle in a hostile environment vs. good people, it's going to cost you," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Toussaint's fumble. "It cost us today."

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