Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos will face Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers in the 50th Super Bowl - which many expect to be the final game of Manning's career.
Denver (14-4) edged the New England Patriots 20-18 for the AFC title Sunday, before Carolina (17-1) ran away with a 49-15 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC.
When Manning was watching games from the locker room a few months ago, none of this seemed possible.
Manning back on the field, playing the role of the most decorated game manager in history.
Manning churning his 39-year-old legs around right end for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Manning back in the Super Bowl.
The strangest season of No. 18's Hall of Fame-ready career will play itself out all the way to the last game. Manning and the Denver Broncos are heading to the Super Bowl, thanks to his efficient offense and a big-play defense that saved a 20-18 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday.
"It's been a unique season," Manning said. "And this game today was a unique football game."
Manning's third-quarter scramble for a first down - "The run," he called it, using air quotes - might be the most celebrated scramble by a Broncos quarterback since John Elway helicoptered in the Super Bowl, 18 years ago. It was certainly the most unexpected.
"He's going to do what he has to do to win," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's one of the greatest competitors ever in this league."
That play helped flip the field early in the second half for the Broncos (14-4). Then, defense saved the day.
At 39, Manning - the only five-time MVP in league history - is the oldest starting quarterback to lead a team to the Super Bowl. He is1-2 in the big game, winning with the Colts in 2007, then losing with the Colts in 2010, and losing with the Broncos in 2014.
The Feb. 7 game at Santa Clara, California, will be the Broncos' record-tying eighth Super Bowl, the Panthers' second.
Carolina opened as a 4-point favorite with most bookmakers.
For the Panthers, Superman is headed for the Super Bowl.
He's taking the Carolina Panthers with him.
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina's big-play defense stifled the league's top-ranked offense in a 49-15 romp Sunday for the NFC championship. It was the most points for a winner of an NFC title game.
The NFL's new top man at quarterback — Newton is an All-Pro this season — will lead the Panthers against five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in two weeks.
"Playing the sheriff," Newton said of Manning. "We're going to live in the moment right now. We're going to be excited."
It will be Newton's first trip to the Super Bowl and the second trip to the big game for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time.
"We won as a team," Newton said. "We came out here and fought our tails off and we did what a lot of people said we couldn't do. It's not over yet. We'll be ready to go in two weeks."
And while the Broncos' defense carried it past New England 20-18 for the AFC crown, Carolina's D was just as destructive. It picked off Carson Palmer four times, forced two fumbles by him, and never let up the assault.