Monday, January 18, 2016

Peyton Manning, Broncos drive journey forward

By Woody Paige
The Denver Post
January 17, 2016

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws downfield against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter on Jan. 17, 2016 in the Divisional Round Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. (Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post)

"Don't stop believing." — Journey
The journey continues for Peyton Manning and the Broncos, and they haven't stop believing.
Four seasons after the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs in overtime, 18 seasons after the Broncos defeated the Steelers in the AFC championship game and went on to win their first NFL title, and 38 seasons after the Broncos won over the Steelers in their first postseason game, the Broncos rallied in the fourth quarter Sunday evening to advance to their 10th conference championship.
Of course, the New England Patriots stand strong in the Broncos' way to an eighth Super Bowl.
Before Sunday, of Manning's 56 game-winning drives, only one was in the postseason — against the Patriots.
But, with 10 minutes remaining Sunday, this game seemed to be the 10th one-and-out, and third in Denver, for Manning.
The Steelers led 13-12 and were at the Broncos' 34-yard line. Then, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Pittsburgh's sixth-string running back this season, was victimized when cornerback Bradley Roby punched the football out of his hand and DeMarcus Ware recovered.
Manning took the Broncos on a 13-play, 65-yard drive, exclamation-marked by C.J. Anderson's 1-yard blast, the Broncos' only touchdown. Manning threw to Demaryius Thomas, hero of another playoff game against Pittsburgh, for a two-point conversion.
And the Broncos were up for good.
Outside of Pittsburgh and a few thousand Steelers faithful among the 76,956, the nation wide was on Peyton's side.
It was the first time Manning had started a game in more than two months. John Elway and Gary Kubiak wanted Manning to be well-rested this year for the postseason. He was.
And he was a very game game manager. Peyton didn't throw for a touchdown, but he didn't throw an interception. He completed 21-of-37 passes for 222 yards, but could have had 28-for-300. The Broncos dropped seven passes, six in the first half when the winds and the crowd were howling.
The Broncos were gone with the wind when the Steel City acted like it would steal the game, with advantages of 1,4,1,4 and 1 on the lame arm of "Biggest Ben" Roethlisberger.
But the game was afoot to Manning, who twice pulled off amazing pass plays.
Early in the fourth quarter, Manning was about to be sacked on first down for the second time when he surrendered and fell down. Yet, he was not touched, got up and instinctively flung the ball to Emmanuel Sanders for the Broncos longest pass play — 34 yards.
"I'd like to get in there early (Monday morning), and then I can get it deleted off the game film," Manning said. "I think it was probably our longest pass play of the game. We'll take it."
But a 31-yarder on third-and-12 to Bennie Fowler kept the winning drive alive.
Elton John would call it "Bennie and the catch."
Manning called it "a great catch vs. tight coverage."
He said of the game: "I think it helps playing a lot of close games during the course of the season, starting with the very first one against Baltimore. (This one) was a dogfight ... We knew eventually that we needed to get a touchdown drive. Defense got the turnover there late, and, finally, we put together a drive to get down there and get a touchdown."
Anderson said Manning kept telling the offensive players to remain patient.
The defense, as usual, was carrying the Broncos. Even though the Broncos gave up nine big plays to the injury-challenged Steelers, the defense held them to one measly touchdown.
In two of the three previous seasons, the Broncos and Manning had lost at home in their opening playoff game.
A year ago, Manning looked battered and seemed beaten after the playoff loss to Indianapolis. And there was talk he was finished.
Not yet.
The journey is not over.
Manning has won the 198th victory of his 18 regular and 15 post seasons.
He and the Broncos refuse to stop believing.
Woody Paige: or @woodypaige

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