Peyton Manning set up another duel with great rival Tom Brady on Sunday after steering the Denver Broncos to a hardfought 23-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the American Football Conference championship game.
Veteran quarterback Manning will face off against New England Patriots opposite number Brady next week for the fifth time in NFL play-off history after an attritional battle in Denver.
Broncos running back CJ Anderson effectively sealed the victory for Denver, scoring the touchdown in the fourth quarter which helped put the home side up seven points late in the game.
The Broncos had taken a 6-0 lead thanks to field goals from Brandon McManus early in the first quarter as Pittsburgh’s defense kept Manning’s aerial game in check.
But the Steelers hit back with a Fitzgerald Toussaint touchdown to take the lead, the running back crossing from one yard out to put the seal on a five-play 80-yard drive marshalled by battle-weary quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
A 43-yard field goal from Chris Boswell put Pittsburgh 10-6 up before McManus added his third three-pointer of the afternoon to make it 10-9 at the half.
A further Boswell field goal put the Steelers 13-9 up in the third quarter before McManus responded with his fourth kick of the day to make it 13-12.
As the tension mounted in the fourth quarter, the Broncos offense finally began to fire and took the lead through Anderson’s one-yard touchdown run.
Anderson’s decisive score was the culmination of a 14-play 65-yard drive which crucially took nearly seven minutes off the clock.
A successful two-point conversion gave Denver a seven-point lead, leaving Pittsburgh with just over three minutes to try and find a touchdown to level the game and force overtime.
Yet Denver’s defense were in no mood to let victory slip and when Roethlisberger was sacked on an unsuccessful fourth down conversion attempt deep in Steelers territory, the writing was on the wall.
McManus then kicked the Broncos into a 10-point lead with less than a minute remaining.
Boswell’s 47-yard field goal cut the Denver lead back to seven points with 19 seconds remaining, but when the Broncos successfully gathered Pittsburgh’s onside kick attempt, the game was over.