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Peyton Manning's moment almost never arrived. The energy provided

in the season finale remained absent. The Broncos, at the worst possible time, became decaffeinated.

Trailing by one in the fourth quarter, they needed good fortune, the kind of break that sticks in conversations for weeks. Postseason casts unlikely stars. With another disappointing playoff exit lurking, cornerback Bradley Roby caused a fumble, reserve receiver Bennie Fowler caught a 31-yard pass on Manning's most important spiral on a windy Sunday, and C.J. Anderson bounced into the end zone.

The Broncos ended their postseason streak without a touchdown at six quarters and Manning avoided his 10th one-and-done in a clunky 23-16 divisional round victory over the gusty Steelers.

The charming part of the playoffs is that artistic value matters little, especially when kicker Brandon McManus ties an NFL postseason record with five field goals. Denver survived seven dropped passes, multiple missed tackles on gash plays to receivers and a series of empty possessions to host the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at 1:05 p.m Sunday.

In his 18th season, Manning will go against New England's Tom Brady for the 17th time. He's 5-11 in those games. That talk feels welcomed over a first-game playoff exit.

More to come with this story.


Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws downfield against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter on Jan. 17, 2016 in the Divisional Round Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. (Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post)

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