Peyton Manning gets last laugh vs. Brady, Patriots: 10 things to know

For a week 39-year-old Peyton Manning had to hear about how he is too old, too decrepit, too noodle-armed to compete against his spry counterpart Tom Brady and his mastermind coach Bill Belichick. Never mind that the two quarterbacks are separated by 14 months, or that Brady spent much of the season eschewing deep passes for underneath routes and dump-offs.

Instead, everyone was focused on Manning's inability to send the ball more than 20 yards downfield without it looking like a beach ball on a windy day.

None of that mattered on Sunday, partly because Manning played one of his best games of the season and partly because the Broncos' top-ranked defense looked the '85 Bears and Brady looked like Tony Eason.

Peyton Manning has the last laugh against Brady and the Pats. (USATSI)
Peyton Manning has the last laugh against Tom Brady and the Pats. (USATSI)

Still, the Patriots were in it till the very end, thanks to a good showing from their defense. But also due to Brady and the offense overcoming some long odds on one last drive that led to a touchdown and the subsequent attempt at the game-tying two-point conversion.

As you probably know by now, the conversion failed, the Patriots lost, and Manning, improbably, is headed back to the Super Bowl for what could be the final game of his illustrious NFL career.

Here are 10 things to know from the nailbiter that was Sunday's AFC Championship:

1. Shame on those people who doubted Manning and the Broncos. That includes us -- we picked the Patriots to win in Denver because we had zero faith in Manning's physical abilities. We weighed that against history and, perhaps, common sense. Brady came into the game with a 2-6 record in Denver, not to mention Manning's championship-game domination over Brady:

Or that Brady is winless in his last five matchups against either Peyton or Eli in the postseason. Put another way: bet against Manning at your peril, at least when he's facing Brady in the playoffs. Lesson learned.

2. Manning was better but he's still not ManningYes, Peyton has looked better in the playoffs than at anytime in the previous four months but he's still a far cry from the Peyton Manning we saw as recently as two years ago, when he threw for 5,477 and 55 touchdowns and ranked first in QB efficiency, according to Football Outsiders' metrics.

In 2015, Manning threw for 2,249 yards in 10 games (he missed six games with a foot injury) and tossed nine touchdowns against 17 interceptions. He ranked 36th in QB efficiency, just behind Matt Cassel and Colin Kaepernick.

Here's a Manning-to-Emmanuel Sanders pass that was woefully underthrown but Sanders made a great play on the ball:

The play went for 34 yards, the longest pass Manning had completed since Nov. 8, 2015.

And, no, one play doesn't prove that Manning should change his name to Arm Punt, but you're lying if you think that he A) has lost the ability to drive the ball down the field, and B) also has lost accuracy on deeper throws. The good news is he only has to win one more game to quiet his critics, possibly for one last time.

3. Good news: Manning's diversifying his game. Never known for his ability to run, Manning busted out a 12-yard scramble on Sunday, which was the second-longest gain on the afternoon behind only C.J. Anderson's 30-yard sprint down the sidelines.

Enjoy the slow-motion magic:

Also enjoy Manning's teammate's reaction:

That was Manning's longest postseason run since January 2000.

4. Not to be outdone, Brady showed off his wheels too. It's a low bar, we know, but Brady had an 11-yard scramble before Manning matched him with his 12-yarder. And for what it's worth, Brady was slightly faster. And there's no shame in that -- though there is in this:

Yep, that's Eddie Lacy, Packers running back.

5. We can't say enough about the Broncos' defense. The unit was the league's best by any metric -- conventional, advanced metrics, hunches, gut feelings -- and they had their way with a mostly helpless Patriots offensive line, harassing Brady all afternoon.

When it was over, the Broncos had sacked Brady four times and got their hands on him more than any other team this season.

Peyton, meanwhile was only hit four times all day.

The secondary also did its part, intercepting Brady once in the first half and again on the game-deciding two-point conversion (though that doesn't count as an official interception; linebacker Von Miller also intercepted Brady in the first half). And while Rob Gronkowski finished with eight catches for 144 yards, Julian Edelman (seven catches, 53 yards) and Danny Amendola (five catches, 39 yards) were contained, and Brandon LaFells didn't register a target, much less a reception.

6. About stopping Gronkowski ... This had no bearing on the outcome -- the Patriots had a chance to win and couldn't convert the two-point play, but a series before, New England lost the ball on downs after a pass intended for Gronkowski in the end zone fell harmlessly to the ground. But should cornerback Aqib Talib have been flagged for pass interference?

Here's the play:

And here's a close-up:

We've seen defenders get away with much, much worse -- like, here, for example -- and that one play, whether it was the right call or not, didn't affect the final score.

7. About stopping Gronkowski, part II ... The Broncos' defense pretty much shut down the entire Patriots offense over the first 30 minutes, but Gronk starting warming up late, and it culminated in this fourth-down touchdown grab that cut Denver's lead to 20-18:

We mean, come on.

Didn't matter, though; a play later, the Broncos defense ended it, Karate Kid-style.

8. At the time they tweeted this in the first half, this seemed like a horrible idea.

In retrospect, it's just funny.

9. So why was Tony Romo dressed up as a Broncos fan? That's not really Tony Romo (at least we don't think it is), though we have a theory on it anyway:

So, here goes: Manning, 39, will retire after the season and John Elway will swing a deal that brings 35-year-old Romo to Denver as Manning's replacement. The current Cowboys quarterback was in town to see what a playoff atmosphere felt like. Either that, or this is a guy who just looks like Romo and enjoys a good light beer.

10. This might be the most important question of the day.

In case you can't make it out, that's Broncos tight end Owen Daniels paying homage to Anton Chigurh. Daniels also caught both of Manning's touchdown passes on Sunday. Touchdown passes, by the way, that brought Manning's total this season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to ... three. The same as Brady.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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