DENVER (AP) — Champ Bailey has pretty much accomplished everything there is to on a football field.
Well, with one glaring exception, which the Denver Broncos cornerback finally remedied Sunday — he’s headed to his first Super Bowl.
Bailey turned in one of his best performances of the season to help the Denver Broncos to a 26-16 win over New England on Sunday in the AFC championship game.
The 15-year veteran downplayed his emotions after the game, saying there’s “still another game to play.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 26, Patriots 16
But his broad smile betrayed his true feelings, especially after missing a good portion of the season because of a lingering foot injury.
“I’m certainly happy for Champ. I know a lot of people are,” said Peyton Manning, who’s going to his third Super Bowl. “I’m glad he’s back out there on the field.”
In the locker room, the 35-year-old Bailey had a lengthy chat with former safety John Lynch. Nearly eight years ago, the two were teammates when the Pittsburgh Steelers arrived at Mile High and beat the Broncos, 34-17.
That’s as close as Bailey’s come to the Super Bowl — until now.
“Well, that guy deserves it, man,” Lynch said. “I’m happy for him, proud of him. I said he’d play really big and I think quietly he really did. I thought he played outstanding and I knew he would because he’s that kind of competitor.”
Tom Brady didn’t look Bailey’s way all that often, respecting the 12-time Pro Bowler, even if he’s been slowed by that nagging foot injury. Bailey finished with three tackles.
“Everyone thinks he’s old, over the hill, but he’s been a great player throughout his whole career and great players, when it matters most, play great and he certainly did today,” Lynch said. “It was fun to watch him today.”
HALTED GROUND GAME: LeGarrette Blount couldn’t be stopped a week ago, bashing his way for 166 yards and four TDs against Indy.
On Sunday, he couldn’t get going against the Broncos. Neither could Stevan Ridley. No one could for the Patriots, who gained just 64 yards on the ground.
That certainly surprised cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“They were averaging 150 yards coming in so you thought they’d run the ball, but they got down fast and had to throw,” he said.
So much for keeping Peyton Manning off the field by controlling the clock. The Broncos held onto the ball for more than 11 minutes longer than the Patriots.
“A lot of people said they would come in and handle Peyton (with their running game), but we just wanted to play our game,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “It’s fortunate he had only 6 yards. We tried to make them go to something else.”
MANNING VS. BRADY: Peyton Manning improved to 5-10 against New England’s Tom Brady, including 2-2 in the postseason. The two shared a brief conversation after the game.
“Tom congratulated me and wished me luck,” Manning said. “I’ve said to him a number of times what a great player that I think he is and he was very classy in his conversation with me.”
Manning became the third quarterback to lead different teams to a Super Bowl. He joins Craig Morton (Dallas 1970 and Denver in 1977) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis 1999 and 2001 and Arizona in 2008). Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009.
“I respect him. I’ve always respected him,” Patriots defensive lineman Andre Carter said of Manning. “He’s probably one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s a future Hall of Famer. The resume speaks for itself. I tip my hat to the man.”
BOWLEN’S BOYS: Since taking over the Broncos 30 years ago, owner Pat Bowlen has seen his team win 289 regular season games (most in that stretch) and make 16 playoff appearances (also the most).
This will be the sixth Super Bowl since he started running the organization, tying him with Patriots owner Robert Kraft for most all-time.
“We just want a shot to get another ring for Mr. Bowlen,” Bailey said.
FIRST DOWNS: The Fray, a Grammy Award-winning band from Denver, performed at halftime. Lead singer Isaac Slade had No. 18 taped to the back of his shirt. After his performance, he took off the outer layer to reveal a sweatshirt with a “D” on the front and No. 7 (in homage to John Elway) on the back. … At 63 degrees to start the game, this was the second-warmest playoff game in Broncos history. The warmest was 65 degrees on Jan. 4, 1987, when Denver beat New England, 22-17. … The crowd (77,110) was the second-largest in the team’s playoff history. There were only 44 unused tickets, the team said. … Asked to reflect on the season following the game and Patriots coach Bill Belichick responded: “No, not now. Not right now.”
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and AP freelance writers Michael Kelly and Patrick Ridgell contributed to this report.
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