Broncos hold off late Chargers rally to reach AFC Championship
It looked early like the Broncos offense would have no problems. After getting lucky with a dropped interception, Denver cashed in with a 2 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a 7-0 lead. Their second drive didn't go as well, as Julius Thomas fumbled it away. Luckily again for the Broncos, the Chargers didn't do much with it and ended up with a badly missed field goal. The Broncos wouldn't mess up twice (yet), as a 3 yard pass to Wes Welker made it 14-0.
The Broncos got the ball back quickly, and Eric Decker nearly took the punt to the house had he not tripped over his own feet. They moved down the field quickly, but then...oops. Peyton Manning threw it in double coverage, the ball bounced off Decker, and Donald Butler made a great play to keep his feet inbounds for the pick. San Diego still hadn't done anything with the ball yet, but these miscues by Denver were keeping it a game.
In the third quarter, the Broncos made a field goal and missed another, but when the fourth quarter hit, the Chargers offense finally woke up. A 16 yard pass to Keenan Allen (who was unstoppable in the fourth quarter) put the Chargers on the board. Denver answered with another touchdown (helped by an asinine pass interference penalty) to make it 24-7 with 8:12 to go. The Chargers answered with 7 plays in an efficient 2:29, culminating in another 16 yard touchdown to Allen.
Down by ten with 5:43 left, everyone knew the onside kick was coming, but still, the Chargers ended up with the football. They drove down field again, and while it ended in a field goal, that still made it a one possession game. This time they kicked it long, and the Broncos offense did what it had to do, converting big third downs that allowed them to run down the clock and prevent a full fledged meltdown.
For the Chargers, it's hard to be too upset, given they weren't supposed to be in the playoffs in the first place. Phillip Rivers looked like a viable quarterback again, which is a big plus. They lost to a better team, even if that team didn't play particularly well.
Thus, we now have Patriots vs. Broncos in the AFC title game. Yes, that means Brady vs. Manning yet again. Pat confirmed to me on Twitter that he's very feeling confident.
In the end, in Niners-Seahawks and Pats-Broncos, we have the best four teams in the league playing for the Super Bowl, the first time that's occurred in a while. Hopefully that means we'll get two classic games next Sunday.