Manning, who set single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns, yesterday threw for 400 yards and two scores as the Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots 26-16 in the American Football Conference championship game in Denver.
The Broncos return to the Super Bowl for the first time since John Elway retired after the 1998 season and will face the Seattle Seahawks, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in yesterday’s National Football Conference title game. The Seahawks clinched the victory on an interception in their own end zone with 22 seconds remaining and on Feb. 2 will challenge Manning, 37, with a defense that allowed the fewest points, total yards and passing yards in the NFL this season.
“He’s had the best year I’ve ever seen as a quarterback,” said Elway, who led Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in his final two NFL seasons and is now the Broncos’ vice president of football operations. “Hopefully we can put a cherry on top of it two weeks from now.”
Manning can win his second career Super Bowl ring in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the same field on which his younger brother, Eli, plays for the New York Giants. Eli Manning two years ago won his second Super Bowl title in Peyton’s former home stadium in Indianapolis.
“That’s pretty coincidental that it worked out that way -- that Eli and the Giants played in Indianapolis and we get a chance to play in New York,” said Manning, who is in his second season in Denver after winning one Super Bowl title in 14 years with the Colts. “Our team is excited.”
Oddsmakers opened the Broncos as slight underdogs in the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors at a site with cold winters. Early betting on Denver then led many sports books to favor the Broncos by about 2 points, according to RJ Bell, founder of Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com.
Manning is the fourth quarterback to reach the Super Bowl after a season in which he led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. The previous three -- Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady -- all lost in the Super Bowl on those occasions.
Manning, who lost his last Super Bowl appearance to the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 season, is seeking to become the first player to win the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback for two different franchises. The only quarterback to play for different Super Bowl-winning organizations is Jim McMahon, who was the Chicago Bears’ starter in 1985 and was a backup for the Green Bay Packers 11 years later.
Warner and Craig Morton are the only other starting quarterbacks who led different clubs to the Super Bowl.
“I talked to some other players that had changed teams and I think it depends on the individual, how you mesh with your new teammates, how comfortable you are in your new surroundings,” Manning said. “The folks here in Denver, the city and the organization, made me feel welcome, that has certainly been very helpful. I have put a lot of hard work in and a lot of people -- teammates, coaches, trainers -- have helped me along the way. We’ve definitely come a long way in the last two years.”
Manning entered this postseason with a 9-11 playoff record that included eight opening-game losses in his 12 previous appearances. That included a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in his playoff debut with the Broncos last year.
The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player won his lone Super Bowl title with the Colts after the 2006 season.
Elway, who shared an embrace with Manning on the field after Denver’s win in the AFC championship game, said he had a talk with Manning about not putting too much pressure on himself.
“I didn’t want him thinking he had to do everything,” Elway said. “I told him, ’You’ve had the greatest year numbers-wise a quarterback has ever had. All you have to do is keep being you. He did that.”
Manning completed 32 of 43 passes against the Patriots and connected with Jacob Tamme and Demaryius Thomas for short touchdowns to help the Broncos open a 20-3 third-quarter lead. It helped Denver avenge a 34-31 overtime loss in New England on Nov. 24, a game in which the Broncos blew a 24-point second-half lead and coach John Fox was on a four-game leave of absence during which he underwent aortic heart valve replacement surgery.
Fox, who guided the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season, becomes the sixth coach to lead two different franchises to the title game, joining Don Shula, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil and Mike Holmgren.
Next up for Manning, Fox and the Broncos is a Seahawks defense that forced three turnovers to hold off the 49ers in yesterday’s NFC title game in Seattle.
Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith each had interceptions for the Seahawks, while defensive end Michael Bennett recovered a fumble by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The Seahawks scored the final 13 points to erase a 17-10 second-half deficit, including a 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse on a fourth-down play with 13 minutes, 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
San Francisco was denied a second straight trip to the Super Bowl when Richard Sherman twisted in the air to deflect a pass by Kaepernick and Smith came down with the interception in the end zone with 22 seconds left.
“That’s as sweet as it gets,” said Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions this season. “We knew it would come down to us in the back end to finish it off.”
The Broncos are 2-4 in the Super Bowl, tied for the most losses, while the Seahawks lost their only previous appearance, to the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2005 season. The last time the NFL’s No. 1 offense and top-ranked defense faced off in the Super Bowl was after the 1990 season, when the Giants, who allowed the league’s fewest points, held on for a 20-19 win against the Buffalo Bills.
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