Broncos take advantage of turnovers, eliminate Patriots

DENVER (AP) -- It took a Champ to knock off the champs.

It was over when ...

Jake Plummer's 4-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith gave the Broncos a 24-6 lead with less than nine minutes to go in the game.

Game ball goes to ...

Champ Bailey. Though Denver's cornerback was run down at the 1-yard line after a 100-yard interception return, the ensuing Broncos touchdown gave Denver a 17-6 lead after New England seemed poised to take control.

Huffing, puffing, sprinting down the sideline, Broncos

cornerback Champ Bailey made the interception that put an end to

Denver's years of playoff misery and finished off New England's

dominating dynasty.

The record shows that Bailey got caught and knocked down at the

1-yard line after his 100-yard return Saturday night. But his

interception of Tom Brady did plenty of damage, setting up the

game-changing touchdown in Denver's 27-13 victory over the

defending Super Bowl champions.

"It was a great play by me," Bailey said.

Sure was.

It was the highlight of the first playoff game in the history of

Invesco Field, which resulted in Denver's first postseason win

since John Elway's last game, the 1998 Super Bowl.

Next week in the AFC championship game, the Broncos will play

the winner of Sunday's meeting between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

New England (11-7), meanwhile, will go home, three wins short of

NFL history.

Trying to become the first team to win three straight Super

Bowls, the Patriots simply didn't have enough to overcome Denver's

steady play, a few bad breaks or their own five turnovers. That was

one fewer than they had during their entire, record-setting 10-game

playoff winning streak that ended at the hands of the Broncos


"When you lose, you want to go down fighting," Brady said.

"You want to go down playing your best and we didn't do that. We

made it easy for them."

It didn't get really easy until Bailey changed the game.

The Patriots were moving the ball well in the third quarter.

They cut a 10-3 deficit to four points on a field goal and had

moved quickly to the Denver 5 for what could have been the go-ahead


But on third down from the 5, Bailey stepped in front Troy Brown

in the end zone for the pick. He sprinted down the sideline and

when he felt Kevin Faulk swipe at him helplessly about 70 yards

into the trek, he thought he had it cinched.

Champions don't go down easily, though, and tight end Ben Watson

wasn't quitting. Watson took an angle, and with Bailey slowing and

bringing the ball down to his hip, Watson got there, knocked Bailey

down and sent the ball flying out of bounds at the 1.

Or maybe through the end zone.

With Bailey lying on his back, grimacing and gasping for air,

Belichick challenged the call, saying the ball flew out of the end

zone, not at the 1, which would have given New England the ball

back on a touchback.

"It was a great effort on his part," Belichick said of Watson.

But did it go out through the end zone?

"Go ask them," the coach said of the officials, who also set

up Denver's first touchdown on a questionable pass-interference

call in the end zone against Asante Samuel.

It was the kind of call a championship team might have gotten.

With no decisive TV angle, though, the Pats didn't. On the next

play, Mike Anderson scored his second 1-yard touchdown of the night

and gave Denver a 17-6 lead.

"I never saw the guy coming, but I was going as hard as I

could," Bailey said of the longest non-scoring interception return

in NFL playoff history.

Not that anybody was questioning him. Nor is there any more

doubt about who won in the blockbuster trade before the 2004

season, when the Broncos sent Clinton Portis to Washington for

Bailey and a second-round pick.

Portis and the Redskins got knocked out of the playoffs

Saturday. Bailey and the Broncos are moving on.

"I don't care about what happens tomorrow," Bailey said. "It

doesn't matter if it's Pittsburgh or Indy. We got this one."

Trailing 17-6, always reliable Adam Vinatieri, the difference in

all three of New England's three-point Super Bowl victories, missed

a 42-yard field goal. Shortly after, Brown fumbled a punt return to

set up Jake Plummer's lone touchdown pass of the night, a 4-yarder

to Rod Smith for a 24-6 lead.

Plummer finished 15-for-26 for 197 yards with the touchdown and

one interception.

And while the Denver quarterback won't be mistaken for Elway, or

even Brady -- who threw for 341 yards in defeat -- that was the

point: As has been proven all year, Plummer doesn't have to do it

all for the Broncos to win.

There's the running game, held in check for most of this night,

but good enough to grind out 96 yards and punch the ball in under

duress at the goal line. There's the defense; Al Wilson made no

fewer than four big plays in the first half to keep the game

scoreless for the first 26 minutes.

Special teams were good, too, creating two turnovers, including

one off a fumble forced by kicker Todd Sauerbrun, which led to a

field goal and a 10-3 lead.

After Bailey's big play, and the non-reversal on Belichick's

challenge, the coach stood there in his gray sweatshirt, looking

nonplussed, as he's been throughout New England's four seasons of

excellence. Behind him, though, the Patriots were coming apart, at

least a little.

TV cameras showed Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest shoving

teammate Larry Izzo away during an argument, while Mike Vrabel

tried to calm McGinest down -- hardly the kind of poise they showed

as they made their run toward history.

Meanwhile, the Broncos put on the finishing touches and got

ready for next week.

Their fans, dressed in orange and loud as they've been in the

five-year history of a stadium many thought was too cushy and

comfortable for raucousness, chanted, "Let's Go Pittsburgh,"

hoping a Steelers win Sunday will bring their team back for another


If Indy wins, though, the Broncos will return to the site of

their playoff demise the last two seasons, by a combined score of


After last season's loss, a 49-24 embarrassment, Denver coach

Mike Shanahan insisted the Broncos weren't too far away from being

Super Bowl contenders. Lots of people snickered. Very few are

snickering now, especially not the Patriots.

Game notes
This was New England's first playoff loss since Jan. 3,

1999, a 25-10 loss at Jacksonville in the first round. ... The

Broncos improved to 2-0 lifetime against the Patriots in the

playoffs. Their other win was 22-17 in 1986. ... Denver CB Darrent

Williams returned from his groin injury and played as the nickel

back, while Domonique Foxworth started.