Tom Brady wasn't vintage Brady — until the end, anyway. And Stephen Gostkowski wasn't reliable Gostkowski, putting New England in an early bind by missing an extra point.
The Patriots never could recover as their reign as NFL champions ended with a 20-18 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday in the AFC championship game.
The NFL wanted to spice things up by moving the extra point back this season. They certainly did at that. Gostkowski missed a rare extra point — he had made an NFL-record 523 consecutive PATs — and that put Brady and the offense in chase mode the rest of the way.
This was also far from Brady's best performance. He was constantly hounded by Denver's top-ranked defense, especially Von Miller as the linebacker finished with an interception and 2 ½ sacks. Brady was 27 of 56 for 310 yards and two interceptions.
But when it mattered most, Brady found his mojo.
Brady led the Patriots on a TD drive in the waning seconds, hitting Rob Gronkowski for a 4-yard score on fourth down. Pulling within two points at 20-18 and 12 seconds left, the Patriots went for the 2-point conversion.
Aqib Talib stepped in front of Brady's pass and deflected it toward the sky. Bradley Roby made the pick.
The Broncos recovered the onside kick and, after a knee by Manning, the celebration began. Manning is now 3-1 against Brady when it has counted the most — with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.
Manning gave Brady a hearty handshake before No. 12 left the field. This city has been a house of horrors for Brady, who's now 2-7 in the Mile High City.
This was Gostkowski's first miss in nine years. His only other miss came in Week 17 of his rookie season in 2006 against Tennessee. He had made all 60 of his kicks in the playoffs.
"We just didn't play well enough. You know, you get to the AFC championship and you get down, you've got to play well," Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "You've got to play, really your best football of the year. Today, we just fell short. A couple of plays here and there where they made better plays really were the deciding factors of the game."
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