NPR logo Sunday NFL Action: AFC And NFC Championship Games Are Decided


Sunday NFL Action: AFC And NFC Championship Games Are Decided

Peyton Manning gets to face his biggest nemesis for one more shot at glory. Get ready for Brady-Manning XVII.

The NFL's only five-time MVP earned one more and possibly final game against his rival by leading the Denver Broncos to a come-from-behind 23-16 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on a blustery Sunday.

That set up an AFC championship game next weekend in Denver against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Just before kickoff Sunday in Denver, a strong wind blew over the Rocky Mountains, wreaking havoc on passes and kicks alike, although Broncos' Brandon McManus tied an NFL playoff record by converting all five of his field-goal attempts and Chris Boswell of the Steelers made all three of his.

Manning's teammates dropped seven passes but also came through in crunch time. Denver is 10-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer, and Manning said being battle-tested helped them on this blustery night

With Denver down 13-12 with less than 10 minutes left, cornerback Bradley Roby, burned time and again, punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint's arms and teammate DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Denver 35-yard line.

"Perfect timing," Roby said.

Toussaint, who scored his first career TD in the first half, took it hard and blamed himself.

"This is not all on him by any means," Roethlisberger said. "It's on all of us."

After Toussaint's fumble, Manning went to work, driving Denver to its only touchdown, a 1-yard run by C.J. Anderson, followed by Demaryius Thomas' catch on the 2-pointer that put Denver ahead 20-13 with three minutes left.

That was Manning's 55th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, extending one of the dozen NFL records he owns.

Carolina Panthers Hold Off Seattle's Comeback

Four games into his playoff career, Cam Newton recognizes the key element to success. He calls it "Big Mo," and there couldn't have been a better example than Carolina's 31-24 victory over Seattle on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.

Emphatically backing up their superb regular season with one of the most dominating halves in football history, the Panthers then hung on in the face of a furious Seahawks rally before surviving.

"The playoffs bring out more than any other time the impact of 'Big Mo,'" Newton said after Carolina (16-1) moved into NFC title game, which they will host next Sunday against Arizona (13-3). "Momentum.

"We can't wait for no one to make plays for us."

The Panthers, winners of 12 straight at home, made all the right plays in building a 31-0 lead, then were dominated by the two-time defending NFC champs in the second half. So if Carolina wins its first NFL championship, it can credit the lesson learned from the Seahawks (11-7).

"We have to find a way to complete a full game of football," the All-Pro quarterback added. "We have been known to take our foot off the throttle and we have to find that killer instinct."

Newton noted how players, coaches and even the fans were feeling the pressure in the final 30 minutes as Seattle staged a relentless comeback.

This will be the Panthers' fourth trip to the NFC championship game, and their first time as host.