ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After hurrying Denver’s quick-strike, high-octane offense through a record-shattering regular season, Peyton Manning has turned the Broncos into a slow-grinding, clock-eating machine in the playoffs.
Denver’s three most time-consuming drives of the season have all come in the last two weeks, helping to render opposing passers into short-tempered sideline spectators.
In dispatching the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots, Manning dinked and dunked his way downfield.
“To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing,” Manning said after directing two epic drives in Denver’s 26-16 win in the AFC Championship.
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Denver’s downshift, some of it by design, some due to circumstance, has thrown a new wrinkle into an already formidable test that Seattle’s stingy defense will have to prepare for in the Super Bowl.
After averaging seven plays, 65 yards and just over 3 minutes, 10 seconds on their 71 touchdown drives during the season, the Broncos have doubled the time to 6:23 in the postseason and the touchdown drives have averaged 12 plays and 79.4 yards.
With a wealth of receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas and a rejuvenated running back in Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos are the first team in NFL history to sport five players who have each caught 60 or more passes.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase capitalized on all that firepower, Denver’s altitude and Manning’s deciphering of defenses at the line of scrimmage to ramp up the Broncos to breakneck speed with a no-huddle offense.
The Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points. Their 37.9-point average was the highest of the Super Bowl era and second only to the 1950 Los Angeles Rams, who averaged 38.8 points.
Scoring doesn’t come as easily in the playoffs, however. While the Broncos have scored on 10 of their 14 drives this postseason, not counting the two possessions that ended in victory formation, half of those have been field goals by Matt Prater after promising drives stalled at their opponents’ 27, 9, 17, 2 and 35.
In the regular season, they had 71 touchdown drives and 25 field goals.
That accounts for a lot of their dip to a 25-point scoring average in the playoffs.
Yet, they’re in greater control and their defense is better than it’s been all season, yielding just 17 and 16 points after allowing 24.9 points per game in the regular season.