LOS ANGELES: Age-defying Peyton Manning defeated Tom Brady in the NFL’s epic quarterback rivalry on Sunday (Monday in Manila) to send the Denver Broncos into Super Bowl 50 and a championship showdown against the Carolina Panthers.
Manning threw for two first-half touchdowns and Denver’s ferocious defense withstood a New England rally in the dying seconds for a 20-18 triumph over the visiting Patriots in the American Football Conference finals.
Cam Newton ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more to spark the Panthers over the visiting Arizona Cardinals 49-15, setting a scoring record for the National Football Conference finals.
Manning will become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history at age 39 when the Broncos face the Panthers in two weeks in Super Bowl 50 at the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara, California.
“This is a sweet day, a sweet victory. To me this victory is a great example of what this season has been like,” Manning said. “It hasn’t been easy, been a lot of different people stepping up at different times … but everybody did their part and it truly was a team win.”
Manning will try to match his brother Eli with a second NFL crown as the Broncos seek their first Super Bowl win since 1999. Denver matches Pittsburgh, Dallas and New England with an eighth Super Bowl appearance but has only gone 2-5 before.
Carolina lost to New England in 2004 in its only prior Super Bowl appearance.
“We’re not done yet,” Newton said. “We all battled and worked so hard. For it to come to fruition is great. I’m excited. But we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied until we win the Super Bowl.”
Asked how he felt about facing five-time NFL Most Valuable Player Manning, Newton said, “I don’t want to make it personal.
“Everyone has worked their tail off to get us this far,” he added while the crowd chanted “M-V-P” behind him.
Carolina defender Luke Kuechly said the Panthers will try to impose themselves upon Manning in the title matchup.
“We’ve just got to try to get some pressure on him,” he said. “We’ve got to try to get after him early and our guys do a great job of that.”
At Denver, the Patriots were undone by a missed extra point conversion kick from Stephen Gostkowski early in the game, forcing New England to attempt a two-point conversion to equalize after Brady threw a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski with 17 seconds remaining to create the final margin.
Denver’s defense denied New England and the Broncos recovered an onside kick attempt to seal the victory.
“We’ve got one more game to go, and then we’ll have a parade,” Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
Everyone misses sometime
Brady paid tribute to Denver’s ruthless defense.
“We could never play on our terms. It was an uphill battle all day,” he said. “It was just tough for us to get into a rhythm.”
Brady also refused to blame Gostkowski for his missed kick, his first since 2006 after a run of 523 successful conversions.
“He’s a great player, he’s the best,” said Brady. “Everyone misses one at some point.”
At Charlotte, the Panthers forced seven Arizona turnovers and Newton completed 19 of 28 passes for 335 yards. His four touchdowns gave him 50 for the season, one in which Carolina went 15-1 in the regular-season and rolled to two playoff wins.
In the first-ever NFL playoff matchup of former collegiate Heisman Trophy winners as top amateur player, Palmer was intercepted four times and lost two fumbles while Newton humbled the Arizona defense.