Sunday night's AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos drew a 31.8 rating, according to the Patriots, who tweeted the news Monday.
That made it the highest-rated AFC Championship in 29 years.
The Broncos won the game, 20-18, after the Patriots failed on a two-point conversion with just 12 seconds remaining. A Stephen Gostkowski missed extra point in the first quarter—the first extra point he's missed since his rookie season—ultimately loomed large.
The win sets up a clash between the Broncos and the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl in two weeks, a matchup pitting quarterback Peyton Manning and Denver's excellent defense against signal-caller Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly and the NFL's best team during the regular season.
It shouldn't come as a major surprise that the AFC Championship—possibly the last matchup between Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady—generated huge ratings. It was potentially the final battle between the two most iconic players of a generation, and it lived up to the hype, even if Brady had one of the worst playoff performances of his career (he failed to complete 50 percent of his passes in a playoff game for the first time ever and threw two interceptions).
“I really feel that when everybody tries to analyze me versus Tom and me versus [Bill] Belichick, I think it’s more about enjoying the games and the rivalry,” Manning told Peter King of MMQB.com. “And today I hope everybody enjoyed that game. I know I enjoyed being there. That’s what I told Tom and Bill—that I’ve enjoyed this game and I’ve enjoyed all of them."
When Manning faces Newton, meanwhile, it will represent a passing of the torch, as the Panthers star looks to take home a title and stake his claim as the NFL's next generational icon. Newton is all but a lock to be the league's MVP, and off the field he has become a regular presence as a commercial pitchman, much like Manning. One would imagine the ratings for that matchup will be through the roof, too.