(AP) Matt Prater's 27-yard field goal gave the Denver Broncos a 3-0 lead after one quarter in the AFC championship Sunday at sunny Sports Authority Field.
The much-anticipated 15th matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning took a while to get going as the Patriots went three-and-out on their first two possessions and the Broncos couldn't finish promising drives on their first two possessions.
After New England's first punt, Manning completed his first four passes, then Knowshon Moreno lost 5 yards on a run and Manning overthrew Eric Decker down the left sideline on third-and-long, forcing a punt by Britton Colquitt, his first since the regular-season finale at Oakland on Dec. 29.
Again, Brady failed to convert a third-down pass and the Broncos once again drove right downfield with Moreno (19), Demaryius Thomas (29) and Decker (19) making big catches, but again Denver's high-powered offense stalled, this time at the New England 9.
Prater's field goal with 3:43 left in the first quarter made it 3-0.
On New England's next snap, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie nearly had a pick-6 but instead running back Shane Vereen hauled in Brady's pass for a 24-yard gain. Cromartie got hurt on a pick play that negated a first down deep in Denver territory later on the drive, pushing New England back to the Broncos 43.
On third-and-20, Brady hit Edelman for 4 yards, ending the first quarter.
It was an unseasonably warm 63 degrees at kickoff, a far cry from the 22-degree night with 22 mph winds that the teams played in at frigid Foxborough on Nov. 24, when the Patriots rallied for a 34-31 win in overtime, Brady's 10th win in 14 career matchups with Manning.
This is New England's third straight trip to the AFC title game, but Denver's first in 2,919 days, since the Broncos lost at home to Pittsburgh on Jan. 22, 2006.
The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory as both underdogs and visitors in this conference championship.
They've played their last nine AFC playoff games at home. Their last trip before this weekend came way back in the title game following the 2006 season when Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to a 38-34 win over Brady's Patriots.
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