If this 17th matchup with Tom Brady was indeed the final one, Peyton Manning got the last laugh — thanks to Von Miller.
The star of Denver’s dizzying defense had 2½ sacks, an interception that set up a touchdown and a pass breakup in the Broncos’ 20-18 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday.
“Hey, I tell you. I can do it all, baby,” Miller cracked.
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The Broncos (14-4) beat the Patriots (13-5) for the second time this season, and they dethroned the defending champs by hitting Brady an incredible 23 times.
Manning was hit just four times.
DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe also applied plenty of pressure, complementing a “No Fly Zone” secondary that was missing safeties T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (knee) by the end of the game.
Denver, which led the league in defense for the first time in franchise history, held on fourth down inside the 20 on consecutive drives before allowing Rob Gronkowski to haul in a 4-yard TD pass with 12 seconds left.
A bruised and battered Brady tried to hit Julian Edelman over the middle for the tying 2-point conversion. Aqib Talib batted the pass into the air and Bradley Roby intercepted it.
The Broncos needed one last big play to secure their spot in the Super Bowl and they got it from the unlikeliest of places — safety Shiloh Keo, a free agent who joined the team last month, smothered the onside kick.
Manning, who suffered through the worst season of his career and dealt with a tear in the plantar fascia near the heel of his left foot that cost him seven starts, improved to 6-11 against his rival with half of those wins coming in AFC championship games.
One was in Indianapolis the year he won his only Super Bowl ring and now he’s beaten Brady twice in Denver for the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
So, two months shy of 40, Manning is going to Super Bowl 50 with the chance to become the first starting QB to win Lombardi Trophies for two different franchises.
“The big thing is we’ve got to win,” Broncos boss John Elway said. “It’s going to be a tremendous add to Peyton’s legacy, but also the Broncos legacy, too. We’ve given ourselves and opportunity and hopefully saved our best for last and in two weeks go out beat a good football team.”
Miller’s interception came with him in coverage on Gronkowski and led to Owen Daniels’ second TD catch.
Miller was a sideline spectator with a torn ACL and Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe were also out injured when the Broncos were blown out by Seattle in the Super Bowl two years ago.
“I remember I was sitting in the locker room and you’ve got guys crying. It’s just a depressing moment,” Miller said. “And you try to lift everybody up. And Lerentee (McCray), he didn’t play either, and he came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to get back here.’ And when he said that, I just knew it.
“I wanted to do it for Peyton, to get him back there.”