The Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots, 20-18, in the 2016 AFC Championship.
With arguably the two greatest quarterbacks the game has seen going head-to-head, the 2015 AFC Championship came down to the play of both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Manning game-managed effectively, perfectly complementing the stellar Broncos’ defense, as the defensive unit lead by outside linebacker Von Miller kept Brady from throwing a touchdown pass the entire afternoon.
New England’s only offensive touchdown came on a Steven Jackson run in a goal-line situation, stemming from a Denver fumble on a backwards pass deep in its own territory.
After a few early scores involving Manning to tight end Owen Daniels’ touchdown passes, it became a game of field position, as Broncos placekicker Brandon McManus outplayed Stephen Gostkowski. New England’s inability to get in the end zone consistently, as well as a rare point after attempt miss proved to be the difference in the 2016 AFC Championship Game at Mile High.
New England’s failed on a fourth-down conversion on a checkdown to wide receiver Julian Edelman inside the Broncos’ red zone with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. After Denver went three and out, the Patriots needed to go 70 yards and convert a two-point conversion to tie the game up at 20 inside of five minutes remaining.
Brady would throw to his favorite receiver tight end Rob Gronkowski in that crucial drive inside of five minutes. Gronkowski would finish the game with eight catches for 144 yards. Brady would get into the Broncos’ red zone near the two minute warning.
Denver would end up challenging an incomplete catch by Julian Edelman on third and long, citing that the Broncos recovered the Edelman fumble, leading to another New England turnover. However, the call was confirmed by the officials and the Patriots would get another shot on fourth and six, with Brady ultimately throwing it out of the back of the end zone near Grokowski in triple coverage.
Deep in their own territory, the Broncos would try to run out the clock, but New England did have all three of their timeouts. New England would get the football back with 1:52 remaining in the game with one timeout near midfield. With the game on the line on fourth and 10, Brady would connect with Gronkowski for a 40-yard gain.
The game finally came down to a fourth and goal play inside the Broncos’ red zone with 17 seconds left. New England would need a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the Broncos to force overtime. Brady would connect with Gronkowski for a four-yard touchdown to make it 20-18, coming down to the two-point conversion.
Brady’s two-point attempt would be tipped and picked off in the end zone. The Broncos recovered the ensuing onside kick to go to the Super Bowl.
- Von Miller: Miller was electric against the Patriots offense, accounting for five tackles (four solo, one assist), two and a half sacks, and an interception of Brady in the first half.
- Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski would help the Patriots claw back in this game, with eight catches for 144 yards and a late fourth quarter touchdown to give the Patriots the chance to tie the game at 20.
- Peyton Manning: Manning played an efficient passing game, completing 17-32 passes for 176 yards and two touchdown passes, despite being sacked three times by the Patriots defense. He also ran twice for 12 yards on the ground in his finest game of the season.
The Patriots entered as a three-point road favorite over the Broncos. The over/under point spread was set at 45 points.
The Broncos await the winner of the 2015 NFC Championship between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals for Super Bowl 50.