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Broncos hold lead, get to face Patriots in playoffs this time

The Denver Broncos waited 365 days to play the San Diego Chargers on Jan. 12. While the Broncos weren't waiting for the Chargers specifically, they just wanted to play any team in the postseason and put last Jan. 12 behind them at last. For a little while, it looked like Denver could collapse like it did against the Baltimore Ravens a year ago, but the Broncos got their 24-17 win and their AFC title showdown with the New England Patriots this year after all.

Broncos protect playoff lead on clutch Thomas catches
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Broncos ultimately sweated out the Chargers in the end, although they didn't break much of a sweat in the first half. While San Diego had no offense to speak of -- and only one passing yard from Philip Rivers in the opening half alone -- Denver had enough to take a 14-0 lead. However, if not for an interception in the end zone right before halftime, the Chargers would have been finished then and there.

San Diego had to fall behind by 17-0 before it finally got a touchdown, yet Denver got it back up to 24-7 in the fourth. Even when the Chargers closed the gap to 24-14 with under six minutes left, they had to resort to an onside kick right away. But when they recovered and got a field goal, the pressure was suddenly on Peyton Manning to get two clinching first downs.

Manning couldn't get a first down to wrap up last year's divisional playoff game with the Ravens -- mainly because the Broncos kept the ball on the ground. This time around, Denver had no choice but to pass on a 3'rd-and-17, with San Diego itching to get the ball back and give the hosts deja vu all over again.

Instead, Manning connected with Julius Thomas near the sidelines, as he stayed in bounds and swung momentum right back to the Broncos. They still needed one more first down to finish things, which Manning got on another third down pass to Thomas. With that, the memories of the Ravens, Jacoby Jones and blown coverage finally went away in Denver.

However, Manning now has to erase the memories of past playoff losses to Tom Brady and the Patriots -- who already erased a big lead against the Broncos this year. Now they will try to prove that Denver and Manning only delayed their latest playoff collapse by a week.

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