DENVER — The Mile High playoff curse continues for the New England Patriots.

The Denver Broncos’ top-rated defense stopped a two-point conversion with 12 seconds left to hold on for a 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The Patriots had pulled within two points on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski with 12 seconds left. But they were forced to go for a two-point conversion because Stephen Gostkowski missed a PAT earlier.

Brady’s conversion pass to Julian Edelman was tipped by Aqib Talib and intercepted by Denver’s Bradley Robey.

Denver had also twice stopped the Patriots on fourth-down plays inside their 20-yard line in the fourth quarter to end New England’s drive for a second consecutive Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes in the first half and the Broncos harassed Tom Brady relentlessly throughout the game.

It was New England’s third loss in three playoff games in this stadium and the second time the Broncos ended a bid by the Patriots to go back-to-back in the Super Bowl.

The Broncos (14-4) will play the NFC champion in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. New England finished 13-5.

With 5:56 left, the Patriots had a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos 16 when Brady faked a hand-off to Steven Jackson going right, then lobbed a pass back to Julian Edelman on the left. But Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. was right there to tackle Edelman for a 1-yard loss and give the ball back to Denver, leading 20-12.

Then with 2:18 left, a fourth-down pass from the Denver 14 to Gronkowski went incomplete.

The Broncos finally broke a long run in the fourth quarter as C.J. Anderson ran for 30 yards. That led to a 31-yard field goal by Brandon McManus with 10:02 remaining to give the Broncos a 20-12 lead.

The Patriots got the only points of the third quarter. After the defense forced a punt, New England moved in for a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that cut Denver’s lead to 17-12.

The Broncos took control in the second quarter to lead 17-9 at the end of the first half.

Von Miller intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski and gave the Broncos the ball at the Patriots 14. On third down, Peyton Manning found tight end Owen Daniels for their second touchdown connection of the game. This one was to the right corner and again they beat Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. That made it 14-6 with 13:46 left in the first half.

Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 46-yard field goal on New England’s next drive to cut it to 14-9.

But Brady was intercepted a second time when he was picked off by Denver’s Darian Stewart – while taking a huge hit from Malik Jackson – at the Broncos’ 44 with 4:08 left in the first half. The Broncos didn’t score on that drive, but kept the Patriots in check.

Brandon McManus would kick a 52-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the first half to make it 17-9.

New England’s defense got the only turnover of the first quarter when Ronnie Hillman didn’t catch a lateral from Peyton Manning and Jonathan Freeny picked it up at the Denver 22. Two plays later, Steven Jackson bulled in from the 1 to make it 7-6.

But Stephen Gostkowski missed the PAT kick – his first miss since Dec. 31, 2006 – and the Broncos led 7-6. Gostkowski had converted and NFL-record 463 consecutive PATs.

The Broncos took the early advantage when Peyton Manning threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Owen Daniels down the right seam of the Patriots zone. The Broncos drove 83 yards in 11 plays on the scoring drive, with Manning going 4-for-6 for 60 yards.

New England had the ball first – shockingly taking the ball after it won the coin toss – but was forced to punt after picking up one first down.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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