DENVER (AP) — If this 17th matchup with Tom Brady was indeed the final one, Peyton Manning got the last laugh — thanks to Von Miller.
The star of Denver’s dominant defense had 2½ sacks, an interception and a pass breakup in the Broncos’ 20-18 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday.
DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe also applied plenty of pressure, helping a “No Fly Zone” secondary that was missing safeties T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (knee) by the end.
Denver, which led the league in defense for the first time in franchise history, held on fourth down inside the 20 on consecutive drives before allowing Rob Gronkowski to haul in a 4-yard TD pass with 12 seconds left.
When the bruised and battered Brady tried to hit Julian Edelman over the middle for the tying 2-point conversion, Aqib Talib batted the pass into the air and cornerback Bradley Roby grabbed it.
The Broncos (14-4) needed one last big play to secure their spot in the Super Bowl and they got it from the unlikeliest of places — safety Shiloh Keo, a free agent who joined the team last month, smothered the onside kick.
Manning, who suffered through the worst season of his career and dealt with a tear in the plantar fascia near the heel of his left foot that cost him seven starts, took a knee to clinch the win.
Manning improved to 6-11 against his rival with half of those wins coming in AFC championship games.
One was in Indianapolis the year he won his only Super Bowl ring and now he’s beaten Brady twice in Denver for the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
So, two months shy of 40, Manning is going to Super Bowl 50 with the chance to become the first starting QB to win Lombardi Trophies for two different franchises.