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Keys to AFC Championship Game


andrew luck

Via Msn Sports

By Shaun Church

Like its NFC counterpart, the AFC Championship Game is a rematch between teams that played each other during the regular season. In Week 11, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots visited Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, beating up on the home team, 42-20.

Brady had little to do with the scoring, though he did toss a pair of touchdowns to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright.

Most of the damage on the scoreboard was done by relatively unknowns running back Jonas Gray, who stunned the Indy defense by rushing 37 times for 201 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns – the first four touchdowns of his three-year career. He was magnificent early and late, scoring in all four quarters to help the Patriots pull away from the Colts.

The two teams will meet again on Sunday night to determine…

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John Fox out for Denver

Beats Talks Sports

After the loss against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night, the questions started. Is Peyton done with his career? Will there be a coaching change?

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Peyton Manning non-committal on Broncos future after loss to Colts


DENVER — If that turns out to be the great Peyton Manning’s last game, we’ll all certainly understand why.

Manning turns 39 years old in little more than two months, which means 40 is less than 15 months away. On Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, it looked as if that day might already have arrived, for Manning looked every bit his age in a dispiriting, 24-13 loss to his old team, the ninth time in his storied career that he has led a team into the playoffs but has not been able to win a game.
It was as if the Denver Broncos veteran was aging right before our eyes, scattering inexplicable mistakes throughout the game.
In his post-game news conference, he all but confirmed that he realized that too.
When he was asked if he was coming back next season as planned, he said he could not answer, a striking departure from his recent comments that he would definitely return in 2015.
“My mindset right now is just disappointment after today’s game,” a disconsolate Manning said. “I kind of need to process this game and we’ll meet tomorrow. … I need to process this game, so I’m disappointed right now is what I am.”
Pressed further on the issue, Manning would not commit to returning next season.
“Yeah, I guess I can’t just give that simple answer. I’m processing it. So I can’t say that. I could not say that.”
It was a stark realization that he saw what we saw in his uninspiring, mistake-prone performance, and was now going to have to deal with it.
The Peyton Manning of old would not have had all the badly overthrown passes – six in all – when the Colts defense took away his options in the middle of the field. The old Manning would not have failed to run when 20 yards of open field stared him in the face on third and five at his own 25 on the first drive of the second half.
No, the old Manning had just turned into an old Manning.
“Those were my decisions,” Manning said of the poorly thrown deep balls on a day when he completed 26 of 46 passes for 211 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. “A couple of them were called to go that way. A couple of them had some other options with it and some shorter passes with it. I ended up taking some long shots. Any time you lose a game, you always look to some incompletions and throws you’d like to have back. … And then some other ones, I possibly could have, probably should have gone to a shorter throw.”
Broncos Coach John Fox wasn’t pleased with Manning’s decisions either.
“We did probably go to that well too many times,” he said.
Walking gingerly, appearing to slightly favor his injured left thigh, Manning was nothing like the quarterback Americans have come to know and respect. He was booed early and often in a surprisingly lackluster effort.
Manning would not blame his injury, which has “kind of hung around,” saying, “I felt good with it coming into the day.”
But something clearly wasn’t right, not only on this day, but as the long season went on.
“I didn’t play as well consistently in the second half of the season,” Manning said. “I can’t give you a great reason for that. I played well at times but not as consistently as I did in the first half of the season.”
Now, he and the Broncos have some hard decisions to make.
“I’ve always taken a pretty accurate look and fair evaluation of myself,” he said. “All I can say now is it’s just disappointing.”
Follow columnist Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.

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Peyton Manning’s legacy clearly on the line in 2014 NFL Playoff

Eight teams remain in the 2014 NFL playoffs, and each has a celebrated quarterback at the helm.

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Each gunslinger would significantly elevate his place in history by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next month.

I’ve argued that Tony Romo is a great quarterback for a long time. If he wins a title, I won’t feel the need to defend him ever again. The ring will speak for itself. His critics will be forced to silently slink away.

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Tom Brady is an all-time great quarterback and winner. Some emphasize that Brady and Bill Belichick haven’t won a Super Bowl since “Spygate.” I think that’s nonsense. If you have half a brain, you understand how incredible Brady is.

Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL today. A second championship takes him to a special historical place.

Can you imagine if Andrew Luck, in just his third NFL season, carries the flawed Indianapolis Colts on his back to the promised land? What if Russell Wilson goes back-to-back? Nobody will scoff at Joe Flacco‘s contract again if he gets a second ring. And Cam Newton — if he somehow were to guide these Carolina Pantherson an improbable run to the top … wow! Talk about a perception-altering run.


Yes, winning Super Bowl XLIX would be a game changer for all of the above. But no quarterback stands to gain more by snagging this season’s Lombardi Trophy — or lose more by going home empty-handed — than Peyton Manning.

As we get ready for the best weekend in all of sports, the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, Peyton Manning has personally assumed a role very foreign to the five-time MVP: the underdog.

Manning’s numbers were down in the second half of the season. In his last four games, he logged three touchdown passes … and six interceptions. His four-pick performance in the Week 16 loss at Cincinnatiwas his sixth multi-interception game of the season. The zip on his fastball clearly isn’t what it used to be.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady and the Patriots undoubtedly looked like the AFC’s best team over the past few months. Baltimore is the flavor of the moment; before the playoffs even began, many (myself included) said the only threat to New England in the AFC would be Flacco and the Ravens. The Seahawks,Packers and even the Cowboys are capturing imaginations as teams from the NFC that can crunch the AFC winner in Arizona.

Yup, nobody’s really talking about theBroncos. Peyton Manning fatigue? That shouldn’t be the case. This is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But of course, the last time we saw him in the playoffs, he was getting spooked and smacked by Seattle’s defense. On the heels of the single greatest and most eye-popping regular season Manning’s ever had — and that speaks volumes, considering his legendary career — the future Hall of Famer failed in the biggest possible spot against a historically great defense.

And once again, a familiar chorus rang out: Peyton Manning cannot be considered the greatest quarterback of all time with his playoff résumé.”

Thus, nobody has more to gain this postseason.

Peyton Manning is a living legend. He is a top five quarterback in NFL history. You could make an intelligent case that he’s No. 1, based upon his unparralleled regular-season success and the fact that (and let’s not lose sight of it) he does have a championship ring.

No, this isn’t an all-time great chasing that elusive first title. But the fact that he only has one does indeed hurt his case as the greatest of all time.

And what compounds the argument against Manning as the G.O.A.T. is his 11-12 playoff record. That sub-.500 mark sticks out, fair or unfair. Sure, there were some tough games against better teams in Foxborough when his Colts lost to the Patriots. But there are various examples of Manning’s teams coming up short as heavy favorites, like the RCA Dome loss to the Steelers in the 2005 Divisional Round and the Mile High defeat to Flacco’s Ravens in Denver’s playoff opener two years back.

Manning needs another title run to smooth over his legacy’s biggest blemish.

Yes, this is a guy who already has defied the odds by coming back from multiple neck surgeries. We need to cherish him as he enters another postseason. Who knows how many opportunities we have left? While he’s not playing at a legendary clip right now, he’s still great.

But where would you rank him on a trust level of the remaining quarterbacks? Is he behind Flacco and Wilson? Does his old team have the quarterback edge this weekend?

Is it a knock on Manning that you can argue against him in all of these questions? Or is the 38-year-old simply at the end of his career?

I picked the Broncos to make the Super Bowl in the preseason, and actually had them winning it all at midseason. Now, even though I still believe Manning and Co. should carve up the overmatchedColts on Sunday, I have my doubts.

Maybe it’s that the Patriots just seem that much better. Maybe I keep thinking about last February’s 43-8 smackdown. Or maybe I simply can’t get that 11-12 playoff mark out of my head.

What would make that go away? A title run.

Another Super Bowl win for No. 18, and you can pound your fist on the table declaring that Peyton is the best ever. On the other hand, another playoff loss, and that familiar chorus rings out even louder.

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