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NFL playoffs: Peyton Manning, Broncos get past Chargers to earn spot in AFC title game
DENVER — Peyton Manning welcomed Wes Welker back into the lineup with a touchdown toss and the Denver Broncos narrowly avoided a repeat of their playoff slip from last year, advancing to the AFC championship game with a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
The Broncos (14-3) took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers then capitalized on an injury to cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to stage a comeback reminiscent of Baltimore’s shocking win at Denver exactly a year earlier.
They’ll host the New England Patriots (13-4) on Sunday.
“It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot,” Manning said after beating San Diego. “But when you get to the AFC championship, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”
Manning ended a personal three-game postseason skid in winning for the first time since leading Indianapolis over the Jets 30-17 in the AFC championship game on Jan. 24, 2010.
Manning completed 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards and two TDs, numbers that weren’t quite up to the standards he set during a record-breaking regular season when he established new benchmarks with 55 TD throws and 5,447 yards through the air.
But it was windy and the Broncos were intent on establishing the run and controlling the clock. San Diego had Manning and his high-octane offense cooling their cleats on the sideline for more than 38 minutes in both of their meetings during the regular season, when both teams won on the road.
Denver had the ball for 35 minutes, 27 seconds in this game, to San Diego’s 24:33.
After that, things got interesting.
Quentin Jammer, who gave up San Diego’s first TD, a 16-yarder to Keenen Allen early in the fourth quarter, surrendered a 49-yard catch by Allen on fourth-and-5 from the San Diego 25 with seven minutes left.
That led to Allen’s second TD, also from 16 yards out, that pulled the Chargers to 24-14 with 5:43 left.
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