Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos drive past Pittsburgh Steelers

By Dennis Georgatos, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 18, 2016 at 12:42 AM
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DENVER -- Through the misfires, miscues and dropped passes, Peyton Manning stayed the course until it finally came all together for the Denver Broncos.

The veteran quarterback led a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter following a Pittsburgh turnover, and the Broncos overcame some serious mistakes to beat the Steelers 23-16 Sunday and advance to the AFC title game for the second time in three years.

The Broncos, who also got five field goals from kicker Brandon McManus, will host the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 24.

"One thing I've always believed in -- you have missed throws. You have some dropped passes. You just keep firing," said Manning, whose offense was stalled for much of the game by as many as eight drops by his receivers as well as some errant throws and penalties.

"We stayed patient tonight," Manning added. "We never really got frustrated, and it served us well tonight and it served me well this season."

Manning, making his first start since playing ineffectively in a Week 10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs while fighting a foot injury, finally put together a sustained drive after Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball from the grasp of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Denver linebacker DeMarcus Ware recovered the fumble at the Broncos 35-yard line with 9:52 left to play.

"Bottom line is when you lose a turnover battle in a hostile environment versus good people, it's going to cost you," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It cost us today."

The Steelers' defense nearly bailed Pittsburgh out, forcing the Broncos into a third-and-12 situation. However, Manning then hit the biggest pass of the game, connecting with wide receiver Bennie Fowler on a 31-yard completion to the Pittsburgh 36. Fowler had two critical drops earlier in the game before securing the catch that paved the way for a bruising finish to Denver's decisive drive.

"You could see, once I got the fumble and we got the turnover, Peyton went down and (the offense) scored," Ware said. "The momentum built from there, and we were able to close the game out."

Denver running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson alternated on key runs to move the chains before Anderson broke through for a touchdown from 1-yard out with three minutes remaining.

Manning, who led his 55th career game-winning drive in the fourth-quarter or overtime and second in his playoff career, then passed to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for the two-point conversion and a seven-point Denver advantage.

Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for 222 yards.

After Denver held Pittsburgh, forcing the ball back to the Broncos on downs, McManus kicked a 45-yard field goal with 53 seconds to play to make it a two-score lead.

The Steelers managed a 49-yard field goal by kicker Chris Boswell with 19 seconds left, but Anderson recovered the Steelers' onside kick, and Manning took a knee to run out the last few seconds.

"It's tough," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "It's emotional for everybody because everybody appreciates everybody else's effort. Only one team ends the season the way they want to."

The Steelers came into the game without two of their top offensive playmakers, wide receiver Antonio Brown, who sustained a concussion in the wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week, and running back DeAngelo Williams, who has been sidelined with a foot injury.

Roethlisberger, playing through a shoulder injury, completed 24 of 37 passes and with 339 yards, topping 300 yards for the second time this season against the Broncos. No other quarterback reached 300 against Denver this season.

McManus' fourth field goal, a 41-yarder with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter, pulled the Broncos to within a point. Denver's drive stalled in part when linebacker James Harrison set back the Broncos with a sack of Manning.

Earlier in the third, the Steelers got a 28-yard field goal from Boswell.

Plagued by eight drops in the first half, the Broncos were limited to three field goals by McManus. He kicked a 51-yarder through swirling winds as time expired in the second quarter, and Denver trailed 10-9 at halftime.

Pittsburgh surged in front at the start with the help of a big play by wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who shook free for a 40-yard gain on a reverse play to the Denver 16. Toussaint followed with a pair of runs, including a 1-yarder for the touchdown to put the Steelers up 7-6.

Bryant had two carries for a team-high 40 yards and nine receptions for a game-best 154 yards.

The Steelers added a 43-yard field goal Boswell in the second quarter, set up a 58-yard pass completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey on a blown coverage by the Broncos.

On its first two scoring drives, Denver started out at Pittsburgh's 30- and 31-yard line, following a 42-yard punt return by Omar Bolden and the first of two 27-yard punts shanked by Pittsburgh's Jordan Berry.

McManus came on to kick a 28-yarder after Manning's third-down pass to Anderson came up a yard short of the first down. He added a 41-yard field goal after a subsequent drive stalled on a third-down incompletion.

NOTES: Steelers LB Arthur Moats went out in the first quarter with a pectoral injury. He did not return. ... Broncos DB Omar Bolden went out in the second quarter with a knee injury. He did not return ... Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was leveled in a sideline collision late in the second quarter, when Steelers WR Martavis Bryant was driven out of bounds on a reverse. Phillips shook off the hit and continued calling the defensive plays. ... Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady will meet Sunday for the 17th time. It will be the fourth matchup in the AFC Championship Game between the legendary passers.

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