Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Broncos top Patriots for AFC title

DENVER — Peyton Manning stuffed the football into his helmet and handed it to an equipment man for safekeeping.

The connection: flawless, as usual.

The keepsake: certainly one he'll want to hang on to.

The Broncos quarterback had an answer for everyone Sunday — from Tom Brady to the Patriots defense to anyone who thought he couldn't win the big one.

Manning is headed to New York for the Super Bowl after another impeccably crafted victory — this time 26-16 over New England in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there," Manning, 37, said.

Especially this time.

Only three years ago, he could barely grip a ball as he started the long comeback from surgeries that ravaged his neck and nerve endings. And only 53 weeks ago, he had a devastating loss to Baltimore in the division playoffs.

But Manning will get his chance for a second Super Bowl ring, after all. He'll try to become the first starting quarterback to win one with two different teams, Feb. 2 at the Meadowlands against NFC champion Seattle in a meeting of No. 1 postseason seeds.

"He's been remarkable," said Broncos coach John Fox, who also led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII 10 years ago. "It's unprecedented what he did."

After packing away his football, Manning ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. A bit later in the locker room, he celebrated with his father, Archie, and brothers Cooper and Eli, the Giants quarterback who surprised Peyton much the way Peyton surprised him by showing up at the NFC title game two years ago.

The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against Brady, but he is now 2-1 in AFC title games.

"I have a lot of respect for him," Brady said. "Certainly, he's a great player, and he played great today."

Though Manning threw for 400 yards, it was more dink-and-dunk than a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment between the NFL's two best quarterbacks of their generation. Manning set up four Matt Prater field goals and had two long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives.

He geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season. The result: 93- and 80-yard touchdown drives that each lasted more than seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3), the highest-scoring team in history.

The Broncos held the ball for 35:44 and were 7 for 13 on third-down conversions.

"To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing," Manning said. "That's something you try to do when you're playing the Patriots."

Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to receiver Demaryius Thomas, who beat overmatched cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats (13-5), and they are not built for that — at least not this season.

"We got in a hole there," Brady said. "It was just too much to dig our way out."

A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the past three games didn't have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, but both were 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 two-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.

"Losing is never easy," defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said. "But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it's a little bit easier to swallow."

This game started getting out of hand at about the same time Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went out with a knee injury. Nobody else could cover Thomas, and Manning, who finds mismatches even under the toughest of circumstances, found that one quickly.

"Talib's an excellent player," Manning said, "but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way." Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards.

Comments
Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who was trying to resurrect his career with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, said Saturday that he is retiring from football.Freeman, 30, was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2009 and was their starting ...
Published: 05/26/18
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Published: 05/25/18
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been generous with his time, staying after practice to work with younger players. That should be a real added benefit for first-round pick Vita Vea.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"That's my M.O.'' Mc...
Published: 05/25/18
The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

TAMPA — Only three players in NFL history have posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of his first four years seasons: Randy Moss, A.J. Green and the Bucs' Mike Evans.RELATED: More Bucs coverageBut by Evans' standards, 2017 was "proba...
Published: 05/25/18
Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

TAMPA — If the first few days of OTAs are any indication, the Bucs secondary could be much improved.Completions may be down, interceptions should be up.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"A lot of interceptions,'' coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday' afte...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

TAMPA — This much is clear: The National Football League is focused on getting rid of kneeling players.That was the league's announcement Wednesday in requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games or possibly have their tea...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Two high draft picks that could earn starting jobs signed four year contracts with the Bucs Thursday.The team signed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first-round pick.Terms of the deal were not released, but Vea  is expected to r...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs offensive lineman Ali Marpet questioned the legality of the NFL's new  policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if t...
Published: 05/24/18
Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

The dust has settled from another NFL draft, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht has made three promotions in his scouting department as a new year of player evaluation begins.Byron Kiefer, entering his 14th season with the Bucs and fourth as a nati...
Published: 05/24/18