DENVER — Peyton Manning isn’t quite finished. He wasn’t derailed yet again by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and he has his defense to thank for that.

In a season in which Manning at times has looked done, he is headed back to the Super Bowl. He prevailed Sunday in his 17th career quarterbacking duel with Brady, aided greatly by an overpowering and resilient Denver defense that carried the Broncos to a 20-18 triumph over the Patriots in the AFC title game.

The Patriots had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but failed on a 2-point conversion attempt.

The Broncos will face the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7. Manning will be seeking his second Super Bowl victory.

This was far from Brady’s best performance. He was constantly hounded by Denver’s top-ranked defense, especially linebacker Von Miller, who finished with an interception and 2½ sacks. Brady was 27 of 56 for 310 yards and two interceptions.

“I’m sure everyone can look at different plays throughout the game when it’s that close and say, ‘Man I wish I had made that play,'” Brady said. “But I’m proud of the way we fought and we certainly fought to the end.”

Brady led the Patriots on a touchdown drive in the waning seconds, hitting Rob Gronkowski for a 4-yard score on fourth down with 12 seconds left. New England still needed a 2-point conversion to force overtime, but Aqib Talib stepped in front of Brady’s pass to Julian Edelman and deflected it toward the sky. Bradley Roby made the interception.

“We thrive in those situations,” Denver defensive back Chris Harris said. “That’s when we like to make our plays. … When you play against Gronk and Brady, it’s never over with those guys.”

The Broncos recovered the onside kick and, after Manning took a knee, 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 is 2-7 in Denver.

“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.”

Manning threw two touchdown passes, both to tight end Owen Daniels in the first half, and the Broncos’ pass rush took it from there. It tormented Brady, who was sacked four times.

“There’s no question this was a sweet day,” Manning said. “This is a sweet victory. … Everybody did their part. It truly was a team win.”

The Patriots were denied in their bid to make a seventh Super Bowl appearance with Brady and Coach Bill Belichick. They were thwarted on a pair of fourth-down attempts deep in Broncos territory late in the game.

“At the end, we just couldn’t make enough plays,” Belichick said. “Disappointing, disappointing result. There’s such a fine line today between winning and losing.”

Brady appeared at one point during the regular season to be the league MVP front-runner, while Manning seemed to have hung on for one year too long. But the script was flipped during a first half in which Manning threw two touchdown passes to Daniels while Brady, under regular duress from the Denver pass rush, threw two interceptions.

The Patriots took an aggressive approach at the outset, opting to receive the opening kickoff – rather than deferring until the second half – upon winning the pregame coin flip. The strategy didn’t work, as Brady threw a near-interception and then New England punted.

The Broncos, aided by a questionable pass-interference penalty, went straight down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive. Manning made an on-target throw to Daniels, who got open running straight up the seam in the middle of the New England secondary for a 21-yard touchdown catch. Manning began the day with only one touchdown pass in Denver this season.

The Patriots took advantage of an instant-replay challenge by Belichick to get on the scoreboard later in the opening quarter. Manning misfired on a swing pass to his left in the direction of running back Ronnie Hillman. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny picked up the loose football, but the officials ruled an incomplete pass and whistled the play dead. Belichick threw his red challenge flag, contending that Manning’s throw was backward. He was right, and the Patriots were awarded possession at the Denver 22 on a fumble recovery.

The Patriots cashed in with a 1-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson. But their supremely reliable kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, sent the extra point wide right. He had connected on 523 consecutive extra points dating back 2006 – his rookie season.

Brady’s first interception came on a pass thrown directly to Miller. The Broncos converted that into the second Manning-to-Daniels touchdown, a 12-yard lob to the back right corner of the end zone.

Gostkowski made a 46-yard field goal, but Denver kicker Brandon McManus answered with a 52-yarder in the final minute of the first half.

Another Gostkowski field goal early in the second half got New England to within 17-12. McManus replied in the fourth quarter to make it 20-12.

Belichick left his offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 16 with about six minutes to play rather than allowing Gostkowski to kick a field goal. Brady was rushed and lobbed a short pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was tackled shy of a first down by Harris.

The Patriots got the ball back and moved deep into Denver territory again. But on fourth-and-6 from the 14, Brady was pressured again couldn’t connect with a triple-teamed Gronkowski in the back of the end zone.

New England then got one more chance, and Brady hit Gronkowski for a 40-yard completion on a fourth-down play. That gave the Patriots a first down at the Denver 10, setting up the fourth-down touchdown to Gronkowski and the 2-point drama.