After defeating the Patriots in the AFC Championship, the Broncos took time to celebrate.
DENVER —** The Broncos may have won the conference title on Sunday, but with one game still ahead of the team, quarterback Peyton Manning wanted nothing to do with reflection. The job is not quite done, you see.
"It's not really time to reflect," Manning said, after the Broncos' 20-18 win. "We have two weeks to play. We're going to play a team that we are completely unfamiliar with. There's going to be a lot of film to study, so I think, once again, just trying to stay in the moment. We'll enjoy this victory tonight. This was a special victory; it was a heck of a game."
Indeed, it was. The Broncos had jumped out to an early lead and kept the Patriots from coming close until their final possession before stopping them on a two-point conversion attempt for the final score.
That early lead was something the Broncos knew they needed to accomplish to put New England on their heels, Manning said.
"New England does a great job of getting the lead, getting ahead of you and making you play catch-up and getting you out of your offense," Manning said. "It didn't look good the first two plays. […] [Wide receiver] Emmanuel [Sanders] made a good play, and then we found a little rhythm, converted a couple third downs and [Broncos TE] Owen [Daniels] was awesome down there in the red zone."
Daniels, who caught two touchdowns, had caught the first pass on a seam route with an impeccable read by Manning, and later caught the second in the corner of the end zone to give the Broncos further separation.
"I know Owen wanted this game as much as anybody," Manning said. "I know his season ended last year [with Baltimore] in New England and for him to have two touchdowns in this game, I'm very happy for him. That ended up being the difference."
Manning mentioned that the Patriots tended to drop into coverage more than trying to get pressure, seeming to challenge him to throw the ball. He took on that challenge and scored two touchdowns, but eventually, the Broncos would need to be able to run the ball. In the first half, they gained 39 rushing yards, but they kept at it in the second.
"We knew it would be a challenge running the ball," Manning said. "They have an excellent front. They have some stout guys out there. I feel like we had to stay committed to it just to try to create some balance and not become one-dimensional where we throw it every time. We played these guys last year and that's what happened. […] And so, keeping some kind of balance, whether you're productive or not, that was important."
The offense would get that breakthrough play early in the fourth quarter with the Broncos looking to keep the Patriots at arm's length. Anderson found a hole and scampered through it for a 30-yard gain. Though Denver couldn't' find the end zone on that drive, they got the field goal that would prove to be the game-winner.
"There is no question this is a sweet day, this was a sweet victory," Manning said. "To me, this victory is a great example of what this entire season has been like. It hasn't been easy.
"It's special. Coach Kubiak talked about it during the week, about soaking it up for everybody. He mentioned [Broncos OLB] DeMarcus [Ware], the year that he's had and the limited amount of playoff games he's been in. It's not something that you take for granted. No matter how old you are, whether you're Coach Kubiak, [Defensive Coordinator] Wade Phillips or [CB] Taurean Nixon, our rookie corner who just got activated this week in time for the AFC Championship and Super Bowl, so to enjoy that and soak it up, it's the games and the fans and the moments with your family after the game as well."