I’ll be honest, when I was looking at both matchups on Conference Championship Sunday, I thought this game would be the blowout and the NFC would be the close dramatic game. (Spoiler alert), it turned out to be the other way round. Whilst the defences ruled for most of the day, it only added to excitement and sheer nervousness of an incredible football game. New England 18-20 Denver is how it finished, and here are three reasons why: The Broncos D stepping up when it matters most All season long, the Broncos D has been keeping them in games and last night was no exception. If defense wins championships, it will be good news for Denver fans, as they finished with the number one passing and overall defence. They won the battle up front with regular ease on Sunday, hitting Tom Brady 20 times and coming away with four sacks. Brady finished the first half with an 18.1 passer rating, the lowest of any postseason QB in the last five years. In addition, their secondary came up with big plays at important times. Demarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe and Von Miller in particular played outstanding football. It seemed only fitting that Aqib Talib, who was one of the best cornerbacks this season and formerly played for Patriots, broke up the play that won the Broncos the AFC. To put it simply, they managed to do what a lot of teams don’t do, get early pressure on Brady and not let the best pocket passer of his generation have time to throw. It was a near perfect game defensively for the Broncos. The Patriots run game going missing Make no mistake, New England has been horribly unlucky this season with injuries. In fact, injuries were a large reason why the Patriots lost their last two regular season games, and therefore allowed the Broncos to clinch the number one seed in the playoffs. When you have guys injured in the playoffs though, it tends to hurt a lot more. Belichick definitely missed LeGarette Blount and Dion Lewis last night, and when you’re getting bombarded by the best pass rush in the league, you need to find a way to get your run game going. Yes, the Patriots first TD (more on that in a moment) was scored on a run from Stephen Jackson. But the Patriots, over the entire game, had 44 yards of rushing overall. Forty. Four. Tom Brady was the leading rusher with 13. If you want to win a Championship game, you have to find a way to get your running game going when your passing game is struggling. In addition, James White dropped numerous fourth quarter floaters from TB12. All Patriots fans would agree that if Lewis had been receiving those balls, one of them probably would have stuck. Special Teams Stephen Gostkowski has missed just one extra point in 524 attempts. What a record. Unfortunately, the one he missed happened last night, and it changed the game. When the Patriots scored their first TD, Gostkowski pushed the kick wide, and it meant that when Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski in the endzone with 12 seconds to go, the Patriots had to go for two to send it into overtime, rather than a chip shot extra point. Now, I don’t want to be too harsh on Gostkowski because he was the kicker in my fantasy team that won my league (need to keep reminding fellow members who read this), however he told the Boston Herald “I lost the game.” He’s right. In fact, the Broncos special teams as a whole completely outplayed New England’s unit. They won the field position battle, often downing the ball close to the goal line on punts meaning that Brady would have to engineer a long drive to get points, and Brandon McManus drilled field goals from 52 and 31 yards, continuing his great form in the playoffs after nailing five kicks in the divisional round. One does wonder though whether the Patriots should have gone for a field goal with 2:30 to go in the fourth quarter on the Broncos 18 yard line. They turned the ball over on downs, stopped the Broncos offense, and got a TD. A field goal there would have given them the win. To summarise, it will be a long offseason for the Patriots as they wonder what might have been had their special teams unit turned up to the AFC title game. Interestingly, Bill Belichick now moves 8-9 all time against the Broncos, the only team that he has a sub .500 record against. Another stat for you, since 2006, when Brady plays the Manning brothers in the playoffs, he is 2-5. Against all other QBs, he is 20-4. For the Broncos fans, and most neutrals, it is great for Peyton Manning to probably close out his career with a trip to the Super Bowl. The man is quite simply one of the best QBs ever to take to the field, and whilst he wasn’t at his vintage best last night, it was refreshing to see him sort of getting back into the rhythm of things. This is his fourth trip to the big game, but he has only one of them. In fact, last time he and the Broncos were in the Super Bowl, they were facing a team with a fantastic young QB and an amazing defence. Sound familiar?