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Denver Broncos hold off San Diego Chargers, setting up another AFC title game between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning

01.12.14 at 7:53 pm ET
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Wes Welker caught one of two TD passes from Peyton Manning Sunday to set up another playoff showdown with Tom Brady. (AP)

Wes Welker caught one of two TD passes from Peyton Manning Sunday to set up another playoff showdown with Tom Brady. (AP)

The AFC championship that everyone expected is now reality.

Peyton Manning threw short touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to help the Broncos build a 17-0 lead and hold on for a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver. As a result, Manning and Tom Brady will meet in an AFC championship game for a third time.

Kickoff in the AFC championship at Sports Authority Field in Denver is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET (CBS) next Sunday, followed by the NFC championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in Seattle at 6:30 p.m. ET (FOX). The winners of next weekend’s games will meet in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Feb. 2.

The two quarterbacks have split their previous two AFC title game encounters, with Brady winning in Jan. 2004 and Manning gaining a measure of revenge with his comeback in Jan. 2007. In both cases, the future hall of fame quarterbacks went on to lead their teams to Super Bowl titles.

“It’s about the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson immediately after the game.

Brady and Bill Belichick also defeated Manning in Jan. 2005 in the AFC divisional round, 20-3, en route to winning Super Bowl XXXIX.

This will be the 15th time overall that the two rival quarterbacks have squared off, with Brady leading 10-4. Brady and the Patriots spotted Manning and the Broncos a 24-0 halftime lead at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 24 before Brady and the Patriots engineered a miraculous comeback and a 34-31 overtime win.

Sunday in Denver, Manning was 25-of-36 for 230 yards. He connected for touchdown passes of two yards to Thomas in the first quarter and three yards to Welker in the second quarter to build a 14-0 halftime lead.

As Denver appeared to be going in for another touchdown just before halftime, Manning was intercepted in the back of the end zone his pass bounced off Eric Decker and was picked off by Donald Butler.

Matt Prater‘s 45-yard field goal put the Broncos up, 17-0, with 9:35 left in the third. The Chargers finally got on the board in the fourth quarter when Philip Rivers found Keenan Allen for the first of two fourth-quarter TD connections.

Denver marched down the field and when Knowshon Moreno went in from three yards out, the Broncos led 24-7 with 8:12 left in the fourth. The Chargers responded with yet another Rivers to Allen TD strike.

After a successful onside kick, the Chargers drove down to the Broncos 12 before settling for Nick Novak‘s 30-yard field goal with 3:53 left. That made it a one-score game at 24-17.

Facing a third-and-17, Manning found Julius Thomas on a 21-yard sideline pattern to keep the drive alive. Moments later, it was Manning again to Thomas for nine yards on another third down conversion to help salt the game away.

Read More: 2014 NFL playoffs, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Peyton Manning
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