IN­JURED SAFETIES EX­PECT TO RE­TURN

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

The Bron­cos’ sec­ondary be­came com­pro­mised in the se­cond half Sun­day. Free safety Dar­ian Ste­wart, one of the league’s best off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tions, sprained his knee in the third quar­ter. Strong safety T.J. Ward rein­jured his an­kle in the fourth.

Nei­ther player re­turned, leav­ing cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris to play safety on some plays. “I have never prac­ticed in this de­fense (at safety),” he said.

The Pa­tri­ots threat­ened through­out the fourth quar­ter but scored only in the fi­nal sec­onds.

“When you get in this sit­u­a­tions, you just go back to your tech­nique,” said re­serve safety Josh Bush. “We had to trust it.”

Ste­wart said there was “no ques­tion” he would be back for the Su­per Bowl. Ward also said his an­kle in­jury would not keep him from play­ing in two weeks.

Man­ning bonus baby.

By ad­vanc­ing to the Su­per Bowl, Pey­ton Man­ning’s salary cut isn’t as deep. The Bron­cos slashed him by $4 mil­lion but gave him a chance to claw it back through per­for­mance. By win­ning the AFC cham­pi­onship game and play­ing 70 per­cent of the of­fen­sive snaps, he trig­gered a $2 mil­lion bonus. An iden­ti­cal es­ca­la­tor re­mains for the Su­per Bowl.

Fourth-quar­ter kings.

The Bron­cos won their 11th game this sea­son by seven points or fewer, pass­ing the 2003 Carolina Pan­thers for most in NFL his­tory. Den­ver is 11-3 in such games.

Cap­tains past, present.

For­mer Bron­cos Ter­rell Davis, Steve At­wa­ter and John Lynch were hon­orary game-day cap­tains for the Bron­cos. They were joined by DeMar­cus Ware (de­fense), De­mary­ius Thomas (of­fense) and Kayvon Web­ster (spe­cial teams) in rep­re­sent­ing the team at mid­field for the coin toss.

Davis, At­wa­ter and Lynch are fi­nal­ists for the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, which will be se­lected Satur­day, Feb. 6, the night be­fore Su­per Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Man­ning-Daniels tan­dem.

Owen Daniels en­tered the game as the only Bron­cos player to have caught a touch­down pass from Man­ning in Den­ver this sea­son, against Min­nesota on Oct. 4.

He re­mained the only touch­down tar­get for Man­ning at home this sea­son, but he had two more scores to his to­tal. Daniels had a 21-yard touch­down catch in the first quar­ter, then pulled in a 12-yard TD catch in the se­cond.

The first-quar­ter touch­down pass was Man­ning’s first since Nov. 8, in a loss at In­di­anapo­lis, and his first this sea­son on a game-open­ing drive for the Bron­cos.

Po­lice jokes.

The Den­ver Po­lice Depart­ment had fun with New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady’s first-half strug­gles against the Bron­cos.

“MISS­ING PER­SONS unit head­ing to @Sport­sAuthField to try & lo­cate Pa­tri­ots Of­fense. GO @Bron­cos,” the depart­ment tweeted.

Brady com­pleted only 9-of-20 passes for 87 yards, was sacked twice, threw two in­ter­cep­tions and recorded an 18.1 passer rat­ing in the first half as the Bron­cos jumped to a 17-9 lead.

Foot­notes.

Singer-song­writer Andy Gram­mer per­formed the na­tional an­them. … Be­fore the game, mul­ti­ple Pa­tri­ots play­ers com­plained about the turf at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile high. They said, ac­cord­ing to Bos­ton re­ports, that it felt like ce­ment. … Man­ning im­proved to 9-15 against the Pa­tri­ots all time and 8-12 against coach Bill Belichick. … Sun­day’s an­nounced crowd of 77,112 rep­re­sented the se­cond-largest in Bron­cos’ his­tory. Only 45 tick­ets went un­used. … Man­ning’s 12-yard rush in the first quar­ter was the first time he had run for a first down on thir­dand-10 or longer since Week 5 of 2002 against the Cincin­nati Ben­gals, when he was quar­ter­back­ing the In­di­anapo­lis Colts.

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