8 p.m.: In two weeks, Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers will play Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. Sunday, the two teams advanced. One game was a nail-biter, the other? A laughter.
Many pundits had feared Manning would throw the AFC Championship game away with costly interceptions. Instead, he threw two touchdown passes, had a key first down rushing, and turned in a gutty performance where possessions and field possession were paramount.
The 20-18 final score was closer than it should have been. Two of Denver's defensive backs, TJ Ward and Darian Stewart, got hurt and Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski was able to take advantage in the closing seconds. Gronkowski battled cramps and the altitude all game, but had a 40-yard reception on fourth down and then a fourth down touchdown reception in the final two minutes to bring the Patriots to within two points.
New England's two-point conversion attempt failed with 12 seconds remaining. The Patriots were forced to go for two because kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra-point try in the first half. It was only his second missed extra point as a professional and was his first miss in 523 tries.
Tom Brady completed just 48 percent of his passes and was hit, hurried or sacked on about two-thirds of his throws. The Broncos had four sacks, but Brady was forced to throw the ball away another dozen times.
After the game Broncos' head coach Gary Kubiak gave credit to all sides of the ball and especially to the defense, "We played our tails off defensively all year long. We found a way to win another one."
New England's Devin McCourty agreed in an interview with CBS after the game, " We didn't play well enough," he said. "There were a couple of plays here and there where they made better plays. That was the difference."
This will be Kubiak's first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach. It will be Manning's fourth. His Indianapolis Colts won in 2007 against the Chicago Bears and lost to the New Orleans Saints in 2010. In 2014, the Seattle Seahawks beat Denver 43-8.
The NFC Championship Game was supposed to be an epic battle of the highest-scoring offense (Carolina Panthers) and the second-highest (Arizona Cardinals) in the NFL. But, only one team looked the part . It didn't take long to realize who the best team was as Carolina demolished the Arizona Cardinals 49-15.
Panther quarterback Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer fumbled twice and threw four interceptions in the loss.
The Panthers led 17-0 after one quarter and 24-7 at half. Things just got worse for Arizona in the second half, which was part of the plan according to Newton in a FOX postgame interview, "We wanted to be efficient, we wanted to start fast and keep the pressure on and we wanted to finish most of all."
Carolina will take on the Denver Broncos' number-one-ranked defense in two weeks.