Even with the No. 1 seed and home field advantage, doubt still loomed over the Denver Broncos as they entered their AFC divisional round matchup against the No. 6 seed San Diego Chargers. For all his greatness, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning still had a below .500 record in playoffs with nine wins and 11 losses, and hadn’t won a playoff game since his trip to the 2009 Super Bowl.
But Manning ripped the monkey off his back, leading the Broncos to a 24-17 win over the Chargers on Jan. 12 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
Manning wasn’t perfect, throwing an interception into the hands of Chargers linebacker Donald Butler. But he also completed 25-of-36 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Manning’s biggest pass came on a third down play late in the fourth quarter as he connected with tight end Julius Thomas to keep the chains moving and the game clock running under two minutes, securing the victory.
Thomas finished with six catches for a game-high 76 yards, while receiver Demaryius Thomas had a game-high eight catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Wes Welker caught six passes for 38 yards and a touchdown for Denver.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers performed well, despite the loss. Rivers completed 18 of 27 passes for 217 passing yards and two touchdowns. Rookie receiver Keenan Allen led the Chargers with six catches for 142 yards and also caught both touchdown passes from Rivers. The Chargers tried to make a late comeback, scoring 10 unanswered points after falling behind 24-7 in the fourth quarter. They closed in on Denver’s lead, but simply ran out of time.
San Diego finished with a 10-8 record while the Broncos (14-3) move on to take on Tom Brady and the No. 2 seed New England Patriots in the AFC Championship on Jan. 19 in Denver. It will mark the third time Manning faces Brady in a AFC Championship. If Manning wins, he’ll reach the Super Bowl for the third time in his career. A win for the Patriots, however, will give Brady his sixth Super Bowl appearance.