Peyton Manning 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.
The Broncos (14-3) took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers then staged a comeback reminiscent of Baltimore’s shocking win at Denver exactly a year earlier.
This time, however, Manning rescued the Broncos from another collapse and sent them into the conference title game for the first time in eight seasons. They’ll host Tom Brady-led New England (13-4) on Sunday.
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. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards and two TDs.
San Diego had Manning and his high-octane offense on the sideline for more than 38 minutes in both regular-season meetings, both won by road teams.
After gaining just 18 yards rushing against San Diego last month, the Broncos ran for 133 yards, including 82 by Knowshon Moreno, whose 3-yard TD run put them ahead 24-7 with 8:12 left.
Quentin Jammer surrendered a 49-yard catch by Keenen Allen on fourth-and-5 from the San Diego 25 with seven minutes left. That led to Allen’s second TD to pull the Chargers to 24-14 with 5:43 left.
Eric Decker then flubbed the onside kick, which San Diego recovered. Nick Novak’s 30-yard field goal with 3:53 pulled the Chargers (10-8) to within a touchdown.
Trindon Holliday secured Novak’s pooch kick at the Denver 27 with 3:51 left. Manning converted two third-down throws to tight end Julius Thomas.
On third-and-1, Moreno burst up the middle for 5 yards with a minute left, and the offensive linemen high-fived each other.
Manning took a knee — just as he did last year after Jacoby Jones caught Joe Flacco’s 70-yard desperation throw with 31 seconds left to tie the game to end regulation.
Denver coach John Fox had Manning take a knee in that game despite three timeouts left, electing to gamble in overtime. The Broncos lost 38-35 in double overtime.
Allen had six catches for 142 yards as the Chargers lost for the first time in six weeks.
The Broncos took a 14-0 halftime lead that could have easily been 21-0 if not for Decker, who tripped with no defender near him at the San Diego 30-yard line after a 47-yard punt return.
On third-and-goal from the 4, Manning hit Decker with a perfect pass in the back of the end zone, but it bounced off his chest to linebacker Donald Butler.