ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end, the play led to no points and didn't help the Denver Broncos.
In fact, five plays later, the Broncos punted.
"Oh yeah, when Peyton shows he's willing to do what he did, you want to follow that guy anywhere," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "You see him diving to get that first down, he's all in. That's Peyton."
With a 17-12 lead and just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Broncos faced a third-and-10 at their own 20-yard line. And in a game that was evolving into a field-position affair, the lack of a conversion would have left the Patriots a short field to work with while the Broncos were protecting a five-point lead.
Manning had spinal fusion surgery in 2011 -- his fourth neck surgery overall -- and this season he missed seven starts after he suffered a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel in the Broncos' Nov. 8 loss in Indianapolis.
But when he didn't see an immediate option for the throw, Manning took off around the right end and lunged, headfirst, past the first-down marker. The sellout crowd was in a frenzy, the Broncos' bench area erupted and Denver had a first-and-10 at its own 32.
"That goes through all that work he was doing over the course of the last 10 weeks," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's going to do what he has to do to win. I know that. I mean, he's one of the greatest competitors ever in this league. For him to take off and make that play -- guys, I can't tell you how he has led this group the last three weeks. It's been tremendous."
Call it Helicopter Lite, a throwback to John Elway's scramble in Super Bowl XXXII, when Elway was hit by two Green Bay Packers defenders as he dove, spinning him like a helicopter blade before he was slammed to the ground.
The Broncos did indeed punt five plays after Manning's scramble, but instead of punting from their own 20-yard line, they punted from the Patriots' 46.
Britton Colquitt was able to put enough air under it to force a fair catch by New England returner Danny Amendola at the Patriots' 8-yard line. At that moment, both Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had each team's longest rushing attempt.
It was also the first time Manning had run for a first down on third-and-10 or longer since Week 5 of the 2002 season, Manning's fifth year in the league. Manning also finished 17-of-32 passing for 176 yards to go with two touchdowns in the win.
"Me personally, I think he still has it, although the critics say he doesn't have it," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "You want to talk about a guy that started the season off 7-0 and now he is going to the Super Bowl. At age 39 or 40 or 70 or however old he is, no matter what, he gets the job done. I am just happy he is my teammate."
"He played great, I'm just happy for him," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "He went through a lot the last couple of months of the season. With people trying to say he did this and that being injured, I knew he was going to come out and play well once he got healthy. I'm just excited for him. ...I feel like we've got to do it for old man 1-8 down there."