The first game on the schedule for championship weekend had the New England Patriots traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos. The Patriots were coming off a dominant 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17. Denver won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Patriots started at their 20 and gained a grand total of five yards on their first possession. Punter Ryan Allen hit a 60-yard punt that was downed at the Denver 15.
Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense took the field and immediately went in to their no huddle offense. Short passes to wide receiver Eric Decker, tight end Julius Thomas and a three-yard carry by running back Knowshon Moreno moved the ball to the 30. Another completion to Decker went for 21 yards and the Broncos were at the New England 49-yard line. They went no further than that and punter Britton Colquitt sent his punt through the end zone for a touch-back.
The Patriots went three and out again the Broncos started at their 18. Completions to Moreno and J. Thomas quickly got them a first down at the 42. On third and ten, Manning went deep for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the play went for 29 yards. From the New England 29, Manning looked for Decker again and found him for ten more yards. They would gain only one more yard and kicker Matt Prater came on for a 27-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good and the Broncos led 3-0 with 3:43 to go in the first quarter.
After running six plays and gaining 12 yards, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots finally got a first down as he found running back Shame Vereen for a gain of 24 yards. On third and five from the 49, Brady completed a pass good for 18 yards to wide receiver Julian Edelman. On third and ten from the 33, wide receiver Austin Collie caught a pass for eight yards. However, the Patriots were flagged for offensive pass interference and that pretty much killed their momentum. Allen punted and the ball was downed at the seven-yard line.
From the seven, Moreno ran off left tackle for a gain of 11 yards. Moreno got the call on the next play and was stuffed for a gain of one. From the 19, Manning threw a perfect pass to D. Thomas, but he couldn’t find the handle and the pass was incomplete. During the play, wide receiver Wes Welker put one hell of a hit on cornerback Aqib Talib and Talib would leave the game with a knee injury. That incomplete pass made it third and nine. Manning completed a 14-yard pass to Welker for a first down at the 33. On third and one from the 42, Manning threw for Decker and the pass was incomplete. But the drive was kept alive by a holding call on the Patriots. That gave the Broncos a first down at the 47. A short carry by Moreno and a 12-yard pass to running back Montee Ball got the Broncos yet another first down at the New England 39. Two incomplete passes set up a third and ten and the Patriots were expecting a pass. That wasn’t the case as Moreno ran off right tackle for a gain of 28 yards. Three carries by Ball made it first and goal from the one and their 93-yard drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme. Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 10-3 with 7:50 to go in the first half.
The Patriots went to work from their 20 and got the drive off to a good start as Brady hooked up with wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a gain of 27 yards. A three-yard carry by running back LeGarrette Blount and a 13-yarder to Vereen moved the Patriots to the Denver 37. Blount got the call again and was promptly stuffed again for a gain of two. From the 35, Brady completed a pass good for 15 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. The next two plays gained two yards and Brady was sacked for a loss of eight on third down by defensive end Robert Ayers. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski came on for a field goal attempt and had no problem making it from 47 yards. The Broncos now led 10-3 with 2:54 to go in the first half.
There was plenty of time for the Broncos to put up some more points before halftime. However, Moreno was stopped on first down for a loss of one and a holding call moved them back to the ten-yard line. But two passes to D. Thomas gained 53 yards and the Broncos were in New England territory again. Short completions to Ball and Welker moved them down to the 26. On fourth and one from the 17, Denver head coach John Fox opted to try a field goal instead of going for it. Prater made his 35-yard attempt and at halftime, the Broncos were up 13-3.
About the last thing the New England defense needed was another long drive by the Broncos. They needed to force a three and out to get the ball back in Brady’s hands. On second and nine from the 21, Manning looked to the left side for Decker and that play was good for 18 yards and a first down at the 39. A six-yard carry by Moreno, a five-yard carry by Ball and a 15-yard completion to J. Thomas put the Broncos at the New England 40. Another good carry by Ball and an eight-yard pass to Decker gave the Broncos another first down at the 27. Two more completions to J. Thomas moved them to the 15. A seven-yard carry by Moreno and a five-yard carry by Ball made it first and goal from the three. From the three, Manning calmly tossed a pass to D. Thomas in the end zone for another Bronco touchdown. Prater made the point after and Broncos were looking good with a 20-3 lead with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.
The Patriots started at their 20 and short completions to Dobson, Vereen and Collie quickly moved them to the 36. On third and five from the 41, Collie caught another pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Denver 47-yard line. A nine-yard carry and a two-yard “scramble” by Brady netted another first down at the 36. The next three plays gained seven yards and instead of trying a field goal, New England head coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and three. That was a bad idea as Brady was sacked for a loss of ten by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
With 2:25 to go in the third quarter, the Broncos took over at their 39 and looked for another score to put the nail in the coffin. Ball was thrown for a loss of two on first down, but Manning came back with a 14-yarder to J. Thomas. From the New England 49, Manning went deep again for D. Thomas and he hauled it in for a gain of 30 and a first down at the 19. From the 19, Ball ran up the middle for seven. He gained two yards on the next play, but the Broncos were flagged for holding. That moved them back to the 22 and Manning found J. Thomas for a gain of 14. Moreno ran up the left side for a gain of three, but the Broncos were flagged again for holding and that moved the ball back to the 18. From the 18, Manning found Welker for a gain of 16 to put them at the two-yard line. J. Thomas was stopped short of the end zone on the next play and on third and goal from the one, Manning lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone intended for J. Thomas. He couldn’t get control of the ball and it was incomplete. Prater came into the game again and his 19-yard field goal attempt was good. That put Denver up 23-3 with 12 minutes to go in the game.
From the 20, Brady and the New England offense quickly got the ball rolling into Denver territory with completions to Edelman, Collie and Hoomanawanui. From the Denver 26 Brady hooked up with Vereen two times for 19 yards and a first down at the seven. Two plays later, Edelman got open again and Brady found him in the end zone for a touchdown. Gostkowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 23-10 with 9:26 remaining in the game.
The Broncos started this drive from their 25 and on second and ten, Manning looked for J. Thomas and found him for a gain of 37 yards. They got as far as the New England 36 and the drive stalled there. Prater was called on once again and his 54-yarder was good. With seven minutes to go, the Broncos increased their lead to 26-10.
The Patriots started out from their 20 again and three completions to Edelman and a nine-yard carry by Vereen moved them to the Denver 41. Vereen got another carry and it was good for 11 yards and a first down at the 30. Brady then found Collie for 18 and Edelman for seven more. On second and three from the five, Brady took it in himself for a touchdown. They had to go for two and Vereen came up just short. The Broncos now led 26-16 with 3:07 remaining in the game. An onside kick was the only thing the Patriots could do and the kick was recovered by Decker. A 23-yard pass to Tamme and some more carries by Ball kept the clock moving and the Broncos went to win by a score of 26-16. That win got them a ticket to the Super Bowl where they will play the winner of the San Francisco-Seattle game.
For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 24 of 38 for 277 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a score. Leading the way in receptions was Julian Edelman with ten. Edelman also had the most receiving yards with 89 and a touchdown. The running game that worked so well against the Colts didn’t do very well in this game. As a team, the Patriots only had 64 rushing yards on 16 carries. Vereen led the team with 34 yards on four carries. Defensively, cornerback Devin McCourty led the Patriots in solo tackles with ten.
For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 32 of 43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Julius Thomas led the way in receptions with eight and Demaryius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 134 and a touchdown. On the ground, Knowshon Moreno led the team with 59 yards on 14 carries. As a team, the Broncos rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries. Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with eight. The telling stat in this game was time of possession. The Broncos held on to the ball for nearly 36 minutes, racked up 27 first downs and went 7 for 13 on third down conversions. They were the better team and this will be their first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl XXXIII when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score 34-19.