Manning brothers keep Patriots' dynasty in check

Bill Belichick arrived in 2000. Tom Brady ascended to the starting quarterback role in 2001. In the 15 seasons since, the New England Patriots have appeared in 10 AFC Championship Games and six Super Bowls.

Their record in those games: 10-6.

Imagine what it might be if it weren't for a couple of kids from New Orleans.

The Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, have handed the Patriots five of their six highest-stakes losses in this era. Peyton Manning's 20-18 victory Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, which sent the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl 50, was the latest addition to a decade-old collection of counterweights to the Patriots' dynasty. (Eli Manning has taken a couple of bites out of the apple as well.)

Before turning our full attention on the Super Bowl, let's take a quick look back at five of the most painful games of the Belichick/Brady epoch. What the heck -- let's rank 'em.

1. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14

Date: Feb. 3, 2008

Manning brother: Eli

Comment: These Patriots were only the second team in the post-merger era to finish the regular season undefeated, and they were 18-0 upon arriving at University of Phoenix Stadium for this game. With a chance to make history -- an especially juicy accomplishment following the franchise's penalties in the Spygate scandal -- Brady struggled against a fierce New York Giants pass rush that sacked him five times.

Brady did manage to put the Patriots ahead 14-10 on a touchdown to wide receiver Randy Moss with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, but the lead was short-lived. Eli responded by leading one of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history -- one that included wide receiver David Tyree's improbable 32-yard "Helmet Catch" and ended with the game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.

2. 2006 AFC Championship Game: Colts 38, Patriots 34

Date: Jan. 21, 2007

Manning brother: Peyton

Comment: This day is remembered for the game that got Peyton and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy over the hump, sending them to their first Super Bowl after years of high-end disappointments. What's largely forgotten, however, is how well the Patriots started and how they built what appeared to be a commanding path to the Super Bowl.

The score was 21-3 in the second quarter before Peyton led what was at the time the largest comeback in conference championship game history. The Colts outscored the Patriots 35-13 the rest of the way and finally took the lead with 1:02 remaining in the game. It was not over, however, until Brady threw an interception in Colts territory with 16 seconds left. The loss denied the Patriots another opportunity at history: They could have matched the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s by winning four Super Bowls in a six-year span.

3. Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17

Date: Feb. 5, 2012

Manning brother: Eli

Comment: The Patriots led this game for most of the second half, hoping to end a seven-year championship drought, but Eli once again led a late scoring drive to deny them.

This time, Eli took over at the Giants' 12-yard line, trailing 17-15 with 3:46 left. His one-in-a-million pass on this occasion went not to Tyree, but receiver Mario Manningham -- a 38-yard play down the left sideline. Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run gave the Giants their first lead since the second quarter.

The Patriots were left with plenty of "what ifs?" in this game, and not just because tight end Rob Gronkowski just missed catching a Hail Mary pass on the final play. Prior to the Giants' game-winning drive, wide-open receiver Wes Welker dropped a pass that would have put the Patriots in position to add to their lead.

4. 2015 AFC Championship Game: Broncos 20, Patriots 18

Date: Jan. 24

Manning brother: Peyton

Comment: The storyline heading into what was possibly the final game between Peyton and Brady seemed clear: At 39, Peyton was a propped-up shell of his former self, while Brady remained an elite player at 38.

As it turned out, Peyton exceeded expectations and Brady fell beneath them. Peyton was sharp enough to throw two first-half touchdown passes, and Brady was overwhelmed by a Broncos defense that sacked him four times and hit him a total of 23 times.

Brady had three red zone opportunities in the final seven minutes of the game, but he managed to lead the Patriots to a score on only one of them. If this was it, Brady finished his "series" against Peyton with an 11-6 record -- but only 2-3 in the playoffs.

5. 2013 AFC Championship Game: Broncos 26, Patriots 16

Date: Jan. 19, 2014

Manning brother: Peyton

Comment: This was one instance in which Peyton was part of a demonstrably better team than the Patriots. He turned in one of most efficient postseason games of his career, completing 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards without a turnover, and there was little the Patriots could do to stop the Denver Broncos' methodical offense.

Peyton led touchdown drives of 93 and 80 yards. In all, the Broncos held the ball for 35:44 and converted seven of their 13 third-down conversions. The score was 20-3 as the fourth quarter began, and the Patriots never led.