Manning Ends NFL Playoff Skid as Broncos Win to Face Patriots

Peyton Manning recorded his first National Football League playoff win in four years, helping the Denver Broncos set up a showdown with the New England Patriots and Tom Brady for a spot in the Super Bowl.

Manning threw two touchdown passes yesterday as the Broncos opened a 17-point lead and held on for a 24-17 home win against the San Diego Chargers in a second-round playoff matchup. It ended a streak of three straight postseason defeats for Manning, who avoided surpassing Brett Favre for the most career playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history.

Manning now has a chance to even his postseason record at 11-11 when the Broncos (14-3) host the Patriots (13-4) in the American Football Conference championship game on Jan. 19. The Broncos are listed as 6-point favorites, according to oddsmakers at the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook.

“We’ll certainly talk about that plenty this week, but we want to enjoy this,” said Manning, who had lost the opening game in four of his past five postseason trips. “You’re supposed to enjoy these wins, they’re hard to come by.”

A four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, Manning lost his first two playoff games against Brady and the Patriots before beating New England after the 2006 season en route to his lone Super Bowl title, with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos and Patriots met less than two months ago, with New England erasing a 24-0 deficit at home before pulling out a 34-31 overtime victory.

“Tom Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks in the game for a long time,” said Manning, who completed 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards yesterday. “But the game next week is the Broncos against the Patriots. It’s a battle between two good teams who have overcome a lot to get here.”

NFC Championship

The Seattle Seahawks will host the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference championship game, also on Jan. 19. The winners of the conference championships advance to the Feb. 2 Super Bowl in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The Seahawks (14-3), who have won 16 of their past 17 home games, including a 23-15 victory against the New Orleans Saints two days ago, are favored by 3 1/2 points over the 49ers (14-4).

The 49ers reached their third straight NFC championship game with yesterday’s 23-10 defeat of the Carolina Panthers.

Colin Kaepernick threw one touchdown pass and also ran for a score to help the 49ers overcome a 10-6 deficit in Charlotte. Kaepernick, in his third season, became the fourth quarterback to win each of his first three playoff starts on the road, joining Jake Delhomme, Tony Eason and Ben Roethlisberger.

“We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Kaepernick said yesterday at his postgame news conference.

Harbaugh’s Run

San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh became the first coach since the NFL’s merger with the American Football League in 1970 to reach a conference championship in each of his first three seasons. The 49ers will be making their 15th appearance in the NFC title game, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most trips to a conference championship.

The Seahawks, led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, outscored San Francisco 71-16 in winning the past two meetings between the division rivals in Seattle.

The 49ers, who are riding an eight-game winning streak, had seven turnovers in those games.

“You have two of the best defenses and two of the best young, versatile quarterbacks in the game,” NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders said of the Seahawks-49ers game. “In the AFC you’ve got the old-school quarterbacks and in the NFC, you’ve got the new-school quarterbacks.”

The AFC championship will mark the 15th time Manning and Brady have faced off in their careers. Brady, whose 18 playoff wins are an NFL record, has won 10 of the previous 14 games.

Ground Game

The Patriots were the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the Broncos and rolled into the conference title game for the third straight year by beating the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 two days ago. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns for New England, which finished with 234 yards and six scores on the ground.

“Tom Brady is going to stand up tall, not to mention they can run the football,” Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said on the NFL Network. “This is going to be a daunting task. Peyton is going to have to match Brady throw-for-throw for touchdowns and he needs to get some help from his defense.”

The final four teams in the NFL playoffs entered the season among the top five favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Broncos led the league’s 32 teams with 5-1 Super Bowl odds, followed by the 49ers and Seahawks at 6-1, the Green Bay Packers at 9-1 and the Patriots at 10-1.

“I told the guys in the locker room we need to be commended to get back to this point,” said Manning, whose first season in Denver ended with a double-overtime playoff loss against Baltimore a year ago. “Coming back was hard work. We’re proud and we certainly want to keep it going.”

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