They helped the Broncos weather an injury epidemic that claimed Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris while rendering captains Champ Bailey and Wesley Woodyard backups for most of the season.
Fox overcame his own heart operation that sidelined him for a month and even a player quitting on him at midseason, and Manning set a slew of records, including throwing for 55 TDs and 5,447 yards, to help the Broncos become the first 600-point team in league history.
The Broncos did it despite losing exceptional blindside protector Ryan Clady in Week 2 and being anchored by a converted guard who hadn’t played a full season at center in 14 years.
So, Manning sits just one win shy of returning to the Super Bowl just two years after he was jettisoned by the Indianapolis Colts following four neck surgeries that strengthened his resolve but weakened his throwing arm.
“You don’t take it for granted,” Manning said, “especially when you’ve been through an injury, been through a major change and you’re in the home stretch of your career.”
Both the Patriots and Broncos have quarterbacks known as grinders, who elevate the play of those around them because of their meticulous preparation.
The head coaches have very different reputations.
Belichick is known as a mostly dour mad genius — even Manning called him “the best coach that I’ve ever competed against,” and Brady has high praise for the tone he sets.
“We’re challenged here on a daily basis by Coach Belichick to show up, do the right thing, always put the team first and I think that’s what this team has always been about,” Brady said.
Fox is the ultimate player’s coach whose bounce-off-the-walls energy and enthusiasm were very much needed after Josh McDaniels’ troubled tenure — and Elway suggested those qualities only increased after he had his aortic valve repaired in November.