The 39-year-old Manning, back in the starting lineup for the first
time since a disastrous outing in mid-November, was shaky at times
but leaned on his team's defense and running game to put Denver one
win away from a Super Bowl berth.
"Our defense is guiding us, let's make that clear," Manning told
reporters after completing 21-of-37 passes for 222 yards with no
scores or interceptions.
"Down in the fourth quarter, (we got a) great play by our defense.
They answered the challenge."
The Broncos trailed the Steelers 13-12 in the fourth when defensive
back Bradley Roby forced a fumble from Pittsburgh running back
Denver recovered the ball and drove 65 yards, going ahead on C.J.
Anderson's one-yard touchdown with three minutes remaining. The
Broncos added a two-point conversion and another field goal to go
Pittsburgh responded with a field goal in the final minute to pull
within seven points but they were unable to gain possession of the
ensuing onside kick.
The top-seeded Broncos, who earned a bye through last week's
wild-card round, will face the New England Patriots next week in
what will be the fifth playoff encounter, and 17th all-time, between
Manning and fellow quarterback Tom Brady.
NO FINAL ANSWER
Ailing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards
while playing without injured receiver Antonio Brown, but the
visitors could not deliver a final answer against the Broncos
"They're the number one defense in the world, there's a reason for
that," Roethlisberger said of Denver. "We dealt with a lot of issues
this year. A lot of teams would have quit and we didn't.
"I'm obviously disappointed but really proud of the effort."
[to top of second column]
Pittsburgh pass catcher Martavis Bryant stepped up with 154
receiving yards and 40 rushing in place of All Pro Brown, who was
concussed last week against Cincinnati.
Roethlisberger entered with a shoulder injury but kept his team
afloat. The Steelers led 10-9 at halftime, and moved in front 13-9
in the third quarter of a windy affair that was tough on both
Brandon McManus kicked five field goals for Denver who also totaled
109 yards on the ground.
Manning played through several drops by his receivers just as he has
fought through all adversity sent his way in the past two months.
After a four-interception game in November, a combination of poor
performance and injury saw him benched in favor of Brock Osweiler.
Then last month, a report surfaced that linked Manning to the
illegal use of human growth hormone following neck surgery in 2011.
Manning strongly denied the claims, and made a return to the field
in relief of Osweiler in a regular season finale victory over the
San Diego Chargers.
Now he is back in the conference title game for a fifth time.
(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue
and Mark Lamport-Stokes)
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