Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
6:02
PM ET

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 26-16 win over the New England Patriots:

What it means: The Broncos earned the franchise’s seventh Super Bowl trip with an efficient, laser-focused effort, particularly from quarterback Peyton Manning, who played virtually mistake-free behind top-tier protection. The Broncos will carry the highest scoring offense in league history into the title game having shown their variety of targets and options in the win over the Patriots.

Stock watch: Certainly tight end Julius Thomas’ presence in the offense helped the Broncos crank things up -- he didn’t play in the Nov. 24 game in Foxborough, Mass., because of a knee injury -- but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton showed himself to be one of the team’s best forays into free agency last March. Knighton was physical, disruptive and a key reason the Broncos stifled the Patriots' run game. Knighton also added a key fourth-down sack late in the third quarter.

Grind it out: The Broncos made an offensive living all season working fast and scoring quickly out of their warp-drive, no-huddle attack. But they have shown the ability to work more methodically in their two postseason games. They had a touchdown drive of 7 minutes, 1 second against the San Diego Chargers last weekend to go with scoring drives of 7:50 and 7:52 Sunday against the Patriots. Those are the three longest scoring drives of the season for the Broncos.

Find an answer: The Broncos made it work against a depleted Patriots receiving corps, but the losses of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in the playoff win over the Chargers last week and linebacker Von Miller in a Week 16 victory over the Texans -- both to torn ACLs -- will continue to be something the Broncos will have to adjust to in the Super Bowl when an opponent has two weeks to prepare to find the openings. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady consistently went after cornerback Tony Carter in coverage, and the Broncos didn’t consistently create the kind of pressure they hoped to beyond two very well-timed sacks.

What’s next: The Broncos’ defense certainly will have to muscle up against the NFC’s best in the Super Bowl, and the Broncos' offense will have its protection scheme tested. But Manning gets his third Super Bowl trip, and Champ Bailey, after 15 seasons and 12 Pro Bowls, finally gets his first career Super Bowl appearance.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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