NFL Divisional round: Denver Broncos beat San Diego Chargers to make AFC Championship
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 13/01/14 1:59am
The Denver Broncos celebrate beating San Diego at Mile High
The Denver Broncos booked their place in the AFC Championship as they survived a San Diego Chargers comeback to win 24-17 at Mile High and set up a showdown with the New England Patriots next Sunday.
Payton Manning will renew rivalries with Tom Brady after he exorcised the ghosts of his losing record against Philip Rivers and also Denver's incredible play-off defeat against Baltimore which occurred exactly a year ago.
Manning threw touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker and the Broncos defence sacked Rivers three times as Denver built up a healthy 17-0 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Rivers finally got his offence going in the fourth quarter as he found rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen for two touchdowns, and a recovered on-side kick and field goal made it a one-score game, but Manning held on to run out the clock.
Denver dominated possession, running 21 more offensive plays and holding the ball for almost ten minutes more, but the Chargers defence held them to 363 total yards and just 24 points as they did their part.
Manning's second TD toss was his 57th overall this season and saw him move one beyond Brady and Dan Marino for total season touchdowns - and he will look to stretch that mark when the two best QBs of their generation clash once more for a place in the Super Bowl.
TD to start
Manning had scored a TD on the first drive of his last two games v San Diego, but he should have been intercepted by Shareece Wright on his first series, but he dropped a simple chance right on his own goal line.
Inevitably, Manning made the most of the second chance and completed a two-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas to cap a 14-play, 86-yard drive which was their longest of the season at seven minutes and one second.
Julius Thomas then lost a fumble for Denver and when Richard Marshall picked up the ball San Diego took charge on the 44-yard line, but they failed to capitalise on that break.
A third sack of Rivers stopped their hopes of a touchdown, and even a field goal proved elusive as Nick Novak slipped and missed from 53 yards.
To make matters worse, Manning grabbed a second touchdown of the game as he hit Wes Welker with a three-yard pass to Double Denver's lead midway through the second quarter.
Fourth quarter madness
Donald Butler intercepted Manning, his first red zone pick of the season, to stop Denver adding to the score just before half time, but they did add three more when Matt Prater kicked a field goal after the opening drive of the second half.
Prater missed a field goal but the game exploded in the fourth quarter as the Chargers offence finally fired - mainly Rivers and Allen - who combined for a 16-yard TD to finally get the Bolts on the board.
Knowshon Moreno restored Denver's 17-point advantage on their next possession, but again San Diego responded and it was another 16-yard TD pass from Rivers to Allen that made it 24-14.
Mike McCoy called for an on-side kick, and when the Chargers recovered they moved 48 yards in under two minutes before settling for a field goal and all of a sudden they were just a touchdown behind at 24-17.
San Diego then needed a stop, but although they put the pressure on Manning, he managed to convert two huge third downs to tight end Julius Thomas to help keep the drive alive as they ran out the clock for the win.