DENVER** – The Broncos punched their ticket to the AFC Championships Sunday afternoon in what felt like typical 2015 Broncos fashion.
They trailed the Steelers at the half and even in the fourth quarter. But in the end, like many games before, the Broncos found a way to win.
Denver's woes started early in the first half as quarterback Peyton Manning and the offense struggled to put anything more than field goals up on the scoreboard.
Dropped passes plagued the Broncos receivers. Gusty conditions didn't help and playoff nerves may have been a factor, too. But Manning was intent on trying. Wide receiver Bennie Fowler turned in one of the biggest plays on offense with a 31-yard catch on third-and-12 in the fourth quarter that led to Denver's only touchdown of the day — after dropping his two previous targets.
"I think one thing I've always believed in is, when you have missed throws or you have some dropped passes, you just keep firing them," Manning said. "Bennie, there was no doubt that I was going to keep throwing to him if the read took me there. I tell you what, I don't know if you guys could tell, it was quite windy down there … But Bennie's catch there versus tight coverage late fourth quarter was probably the biggest play of the offensive game."
The narrative of the Broncos the entire season has been their ability to keep fighting. For the third time this season, the Broncos pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback after trailing in the final frame. Those were all test runs for the real deal.
"I think it helps playing a lot of close games during the course of the season," Manning said. "Starting with the very first one, right? Against Baltimore. That was a dogfight, a grinder; it went down to the last drive. So when you can be in a lot of those games and win those games it certainly gives you confidence and, hey, it's playoff football."
The Broncos are off to the AFC Championships with a win over the Steelers. These are the best snaps of the game.
Kicker Brandon McManus was the backbone of the Broncos' scoring efforts, knocking through all five of his field goal attempts. But cornerback Bradley Roby's forced fumble and the recovery by outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware set the Broncos up for their go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. A successful two-point conversion and one more field goal sealed the win.
Now the Broncos will host the New England Patriots on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. After snapping the Patriots' undefeated season in Week 12 in overtime, the Broncos are expecting another tough matchup.
But for Manning, it's all about taking it one game at a time: "We'll deal with that on Wednesday. We've still got a couple hours to enjoy this one tonight."