Denver's defense deserves the credit. Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Ware, and Von Miller dominated the Patriots and delivered the Broncos a Super Bowl berth. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. were sublime, while Denver's linebackers terrorized Patriots runners and receivers.
But Peyton Manning wasn't going down without a fight, either.
On 3rd and 10, the notoriously immobile quarterback executed the unexpected; Manning looked at the first down marker far ahead of him, unimpeded by Patriots defenders, and ran for it.
Manning runs for a first down AFC Championship: Patriots at Broncos CBS https://t.co/QXGdMYI6QU pic.twitter.com/JktdMnmRGO— ClippitUsers Sports (@FanSportsClips) January 24, 2016
Manning's metamorphosis was all the more remarkable considering he failed to make the exact same play a year ago in the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts.
What a difference a year makes. Good job, Peyton: https://t.co/Tp3D8nmGM5 pic.twitter.com/NmY4vwb8JO— Jon Heath (@JonHeathNFL) January 25, 2016
Was it Peyton Manning's version of John Elway's Helicopter? No; that belittles the greatest moment in Denver Broncos history. But it's close. Especially if it's as galvanizing to this Denver Broncos team as I think it might be.
The Broncos at the end of Elway's era didn't rely on #7 carrying them to two Super Bowls. They were built on a running game and a good defense.
These Broncos at the end of Manning's era have a great defense. And they can take confidence in Manning's figurative and literal kicking and screaming.
The Denver Broncos can approach Super Bowl 50 knowing they have a quarterback who is taking care of the football and doing whatever it takes to win. That went far for the Broncos in Elway's era, and it will go far enough for Manning's defensively-dominant Broncos as well.