DENVER — The main subplot leading to the AFC Championship Game was the pairing of veteran quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both in most discussions for greatest to ever play their position.
Manning won both the game – Denver 26, New England 16 – and the personal rivalry Sunday. And in doing so he set the stage for a Super Bowl in which he will also be featured: this time an old-versus-new theme as Manning will face the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson, the second-year quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl.
However, Manning didn’t know that in the immediate afterglow after engineering a win against the Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“Whoever we’re going to play is going to be a tremendous opponent, whether it’s San Francisco or Seattle,” he said. “You do take a moment to realize that we’ve done something special here.”
Manning paved the way for a chance at a second Super Bowl ring by passing for 400 yards with two touchdowns. Brady threw for 277 yards with one touchdown.
“Tom congratulated me and wished me luck,” Manning said. “I told him what a great player – I’ve said to this a number of times – what a great player that I think he is. He was very classy in his conversation with me.”
Brady was just as classy with media afterward.
“He played great,” Brady said. “They played great – I mean, they all did as a team. … He certainly is one of the greatest players ever to play. He had a very good day.”
This victory had more meaning for Manning, 37, as it came three years after surgery on his neck and nerve endings that left his career in question. He admitted there were times he wasn’t sure he would ever get this chance again.
“I was truly taking things slowly, kind of phase by phase,” he said. “Nobody could give me a timetable or prediction as far as physical recovery.”
It was a day when just about everything went well for Manning: the win, ticket to another Super Bowl, and maybe more discussion points for those who argue he’s the greatest ever.
The Super Bowl will cap a season in which Manning set records for touchdowns and passing yards. He will likely earn his fifth league MVP award.
But for all that, Manning wasn’t yet ready for a full-on celebration.
“There’s still one more game to play,” he said. “I think we will enjoy this, and you definitely have to take time to savor the moment. I know I certainly will, being in my 16th season and going to my third Super Bowl.”