Broncos edge Chargers to reach AFC title game
Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and the Denver Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game for the first time in eight years after hanging on to beat the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday.
The Chargers cut a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to seven points after two 16-yard touchdown catches by Keenan Allen and a successful onside kick that led to a field goal with 3:53 remaining.
But Manning completed two third-down passes to tight end Julius Thomas and the Broncos picked up one more first down on their last drive to earn revenge for a 27-20 loss to the Chargers last month in their worst offensive performance of the season.
"If we got it one more time I believe deep down we would have tied that thing up," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Manning threw for 230 yards with touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, who returned from a concussion. Knowshon Moreno had a 3-yard touchdown run in between Chargers scores in the fourth quarter.
Rivers passed for 217 yards and Allen had six catches for 142 but the Chargers fell short on what would have been a stunning comeback against the top-seeded Broncos, who faced tough challenges from San Diego on the way to winning the AFC West.
The Chargers held the Broncos -- the first NFL team ever to score 600 points -- under 30 points for the third time this season, but couldn't keep the ball out of Manning's hands long enough.
His new, pesky divisional rival out of the way, Manning will face another familiar foe next Sunday when the Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.
Manning, who set NFL records for touchdown passes and passing yards during the regular season, is 4-10 against Brady and the Patriots, including 0-2 with Denver. The quarterbacks split a pair of AFC title games when Manning was the Indianapolis quarterback.
The Patriots rallied from a 24-0 deficit to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime on Nov. 24. New England routed Manning's old team Saturday, beating the Colts 43-22 behind four rushing touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.
The sixth-seeded Chargers, after beating Cincinnati on the road in last week's Wild Card Round, had a five-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Mathews rushed just five times for 26 yards after missing practice all week with an ankle injury.
The Broncos were also the No. 1 seed last season but fell to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore in double-overtime after their first-round bye.
01/12 20:40:59 ET