DENVER – The AFC Championship Game is set. The top two seeds – the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots – will square off next Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
The Broncos punched their ticket to the AFC title game with a 24-17 win Sunday in the Divisional Round against the Chargers.
"It's another step in the right direction," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I mean, we have our hands full and it's definitely not a time to be looking at the Super Bowl. We just have to take care of what's in front of us and not look past it."
The Broncos and the Patriots are certainly no strangers to each other as just seven weeks ago they met in Foxborough, Mass. – and 60 minutes wasn't enough to decide a winner.
The Patriots kicked a game-winning field goal with just a touch more than a minute left in overtime to give the Broncos their second loss of the season. Sunday, they'll meet for a rematch in Denver.
"We're looking forward to it," linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "Obviously we're the two best teams in the AFC because we're playing for the AFC championship. What more can you ask for? That's what you want as a football player. Tom Brady's my second-favorite quarterback behind Peyton Manning. He is. I really like Tom. I think he's a great player and a great person. What better way to do it? You want the two best teams going head-to-head, and that's what's going to happen."
After the Broncos lost in Foxborough, they lost just one more game in the regular season. That was a Week 15 bout with AFC West rival San Diego.
Sunday, the Broncos were presented with the chance to avenge that loss in the Divisional Round. Having completed that task, the Broncos will get another shot at redemption next week.
"It always feels good to actually play another team that beat you – just like we did the Chargers," defensive end Malik Jackson said. "It should be a fun game. They're a great team. They beat a really good team last night – very tough."
Of course, the game next Sunday is more than just another crack at a team that beat them earlier in the season. It's another step towards the goal the team set at the start of the season.
"It's the AFC Championship Game," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "It doesn't get any bigger than that."
Though they'll have a shot at their first Super Bowl berth since 1998 next weekend, right now, they're letting this win sink in.
"Well, I think I'm just going to enjoy this one first," Head Coach John Fox said. "It hasn't sunk in. We'll dig into that tomorrow. We'll enjoy it tonight for what it is. We're very honored and pleased to be in that position."