Though all eyes — and cameras — were on Peyton Manning after Sunday's AFC championship game, the Denver Broncos would not be heading to their record-tying eighth Super Bowl if not for the terrific performance of outside linebacker Von Miller and the Broncos' dominating defense.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was under pressure from start to finish and probably will be staying in bed Monday morning after the beating he took — particularly from Miller, who had a key interception, 2 1/2 sacks and a motor that just wouldn't stop running.
Although Manning did throw a pair of touchdown passes to former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels, the Denver secondary shut down all of Brady's top receivers until he hooked up with tight end Rob Gronkowski twice on a clutch final drive that nearly forced overtime.
Brady threw two desperate fourth-down passes to his favorite receiver, and Gronkowski made two terrific catches despite recurring leg cramps. The second completion set up an unsuccessful 2-point converstion that allowed the Broncos to survive and win the AFC championship.
Manning and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak were so confident in their defense that they did not make a strong attempt to get a first down with just more than two minutes remaining. They were content to run the ball on first and second down and let the Patriots use two of their timeouts.
That confidence was warranted, but that left Brady with plenty of time to stage the final Patriots drive. He's not a popular fellow in Baltimore, but at crunch time, he again showed why he's one of the best to ever play the game.