Broncos hoping for Hollywood ending

Quentin Tarantino will direct it. No, he swears too much.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday in Denver.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday in Denver.

Quentin Tarantino will direct it. No, he swears too much.

Scorsese? Eastwood? Let’s go with Spielberg to direct the film about this Broncos season, if it rolls on, through the New England Patriots, into Super Bowl 50.

Because the whole thing feels like a movie, doesn’t it? Lead quarterback goes down, comes back to win a divisional playoff game. Defense looks average, returns to force the key turnover, over and over. The only guarantee is drama befitting of Hollywood. Seventeen stanzas so far, the next more spooky than the last.

“Starting with the first one, right?” Peyton Manning said after the Broncos somehow beat the Steelers, 23-16, in front of 76,956 cast members at Mile High.

Now for the climactic scene. It was always hovering in the background as a possibility, a final shootout pitting good vs. evil (depending on your area code): Brady vs. Manning, one more time, for a 17th time. The Broncos host the Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday, because of course they do.

“Couldn’t have it no better way,” ex-Pat Aqib Talib said afterward as Von Miller practiced his new dance across the locker room. “The only way to go to the Super Bowl is to go through them.”

How does it end? That’s where an imaginative director comes in. Think of the most fantastical, far-fetched, unlikely conclusion and that’s how it ends. That’s the only way the Broncos know how to end it. They’ve won 10 games by a touchdown or less, the second-most in NFL history, swiping victory from the jaws of defeat so often it’s become the norm.

Is it Manning limping down the field for a game-winning touchdown in the final minute to reach his second Super Bowl after four neck surgeries? Is it Tom Brady, who is 2-6 at Sports Authority Field, leading the Patriots on a

20-point comeback in the fourth quarter? Or is it Bill Belichick dumping the hoodie and opting for a snazzy suit to complement his scowl?

At this point, anything’s possible. The Broncos choose their own adventure and make the audience as uncomfortable as possible until the credits roll.

“We’ve kind of won all kinds of different ways,” coach Gary Kubiak said.

The Broncos advanced to their 10th AFC championship game overall and ninth under Pat Bowlen’s ownership, tying Bowlen with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

But this one is not like the others. To appreciate these Broncos is to embrace the ugly and expect the beauty to eventually come around. This time it arrived in the form of Bradley Roby stripping the ball away from Steelers tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, a fumble that bounced in the general direction of DeMarcus Ware. He smothered the ball and breathed new life into a manic crowd that stood on its feet for the entire fourth quarter, waiting for That One Play that always seems to arrive. It did again.

It wasn’t looking good up until that point, but does it ever? Sometimes with this team — most times, actually — the first half doesn’t even matter.

“We’re just trying to survive, man,” Malik Jackson said.

They are a team only a Broncos fanatic could love. They won a playoff game by scoring one offensive touchdown in the same season they won another game by scoring zero offensive touchdowns. They dropped seven Manning passes. Their MVP Sunday was a kicker. (Take a bow, Brandon McManus, tying a playoff record with five field goals in swirling, unpredictable winds.) Their beauty is in the eye of the late Barrel Man.

How fitting the most memorable play was one in which their 39-year-old quarterback fell to the ground. Manning, untouched, took a self-sack. Then he rose to complete a pass to Emmanuel Sanders for 34 yards. You can’t make these things up.

“I think it was probably our longest pass play of the game,” Manning said.

“I don’t really want to analyze that play too much,” he added with a smile. “I kind of just want it to go away.”

Manning was right, too. This all started with the first one, Week 1 against the Ravens, a last-minute interception in the end zone that sealed a win. They did it again in Week 2, an impossible finish at Kansas City, and eight more times the Broncos won a game by a touchdown or less. This is what they do. They don’t die. They would be an infuriating opponent in match play golf. They fight and kick and scream and do all the things your JV basketball coach told you to do, things that just seemed like something old people say but actually are the only proven avenue to success. They keep working.

“We’re going to play football until the clock says 0:00,” Talib said.

Now they did it in a playoff game, one the Broncos trailed from 1:22 in the first quarter until C.J. Anderson squeaked across the goal line with 3:00 left in the fourth. Mile High momentarily lost its mind, as if it forgot this is what the Broncos always do.

If a lost soul had snuck into Sports Authority Field to see these Broncos for the first time, they might consider it to be the most nerve-racking game they’ve seen this season. And I don’t think it would crack their top five this season.

If anyone is expecting 350 passing yards and four touchdowns from Manning in the AFC championship game, they will be disappointed. If they expect a tight game that stops hearts into the fourth quarter, that’s more like it. These aren’t the Super Bowl-winning Broncos that blasted opponents with Terrell Davis, or the Manning teams that scored 30 points before your second beer, or even Jake Plummer’s Broncos who reached an AFC championship game before losing to these same Steelers.

The Broncos are where they are because it hasn’t been easy. They forced their way to the brink of another Super Bowl because they had the gumption to erase late deficits against playoff teams like the Steelers, Chiefs, Bengals and, yes, the Patriots.

“I’ve never been part of a team that handles adversity so well,” Miller said.

The movie’s not over yet. Brady’s got that Hollywood thing going. He can play himself.

Next question is, who plays Manning and does it end in the Super Bowl?

Categories: Sports

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