NFL Playoffs: Ravens down Broncos in double-overtime thriller
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Denver, Colorado January 12, 2013. (REUTERS)
He was in the middle of the drama, but not too immersed in it to recognize his role would be a lasting image in an instant classic.
The game wasn’t over yet, the score tied at 35-35 and an overtime period and then some yet to go, but Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco knew that win or lose, his play was already a compelling part of pro football history.
“As soon as I hit (receiver Jacoby Jones), for that touchdown and tie the game to go into overtime, you start to get a little bit of that feeling,” Flacco said at the end of an epic 4 1/2-hour plus AFC divisional playoff contest at Mile High. “It creeps into your head a little bit. It was crazy.”
Crazy barely begins to describe it.
That touchdown, of course, was one for the ages, a 70-yard strike that took sure victory away from the host Broncos and ensured one of the most dramatic conclusions in NFL playoff history.
Call it a long bomb or a Hail Mary, but most of all, call it a Bronco Buster, a play that led to a 38-35 double overtime Ravens win that silenced the crazed sellout crowd at Sports Authority Field.
It happened when Flacco, the always big-armed and now big-game quarterback, let the ball rip seemingly out of desperation. The Broncos were up 35-28 thanks to a touchdown pass from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas midway through the fourth and seemingly needed only to run out the clock.
But when Denver failed to get a first down after some questionable play calling, Flacco was given one more desperate shot with 1:09 remaining.
Facing third and three on his own 30 with less than 40 seconds on the clock, he scrambled to avoid a pair of Bronco defenders and then threw the ball as high as he did far into the frigid Colorado night.
When it landed in the hands of Jones, who waltzed into the end zone, the game was cemented as one for the ages, no matter which way it was going to end.
A back-and-forth overtime was finally settled 1:36 into the second period when Ravens kicker Justin Tucker connected on a 47-yard field goal to give the underdog Ravens the win and a berth in the AFC Championship against the winner of Sunday’s Houston-New England contest.
“There’s no real way to explain it,” Flacco said. “You have to get a little bit lucky and it worked out. We were able to take a shot and everybody came through when that opportunity arose.”
There was no explanation for so much of what happened in this one, an epic battle from the start in a game the Broncos were big favourites, a marathon that was tied at the end of each of the five quarters.
MILE HIGH MIRACLE
Let’s start with how Jones got open for the game-tying score after the Broncos left the Ravens with just enough time on the clock.
Safety Rahim Moore somehow let Jones by him as he jumped for the ball, misjudged it completely, then watched it come to a soft landing in Jones’ arms.
“The season ended on me,” said a disconsolate Moore. “This is my fault.”
And what about Manning, who was supposed to cap off a remarkable comeback year and rekindle the excitement of former Denver great, John Elway?
Manning’s reputation as a poor cold-weather quarterback got another chapter as he was picked off twice (though he had three touchdowns as well) most notably late in the first overtime. Cory Graham was the Ravens defender making that play, adding to the one that he returned for 39 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. This time, he attacked the Manning throw, which was an across the body effort that should have been tossed away or eaten.
“The more you put in, the more it does hurt,” said Manning, who also had a fumble leading to another Ravens score. “I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be.”
It stung on multiple levels for a Broncos team that came into the post-season riding an 11-game winning streak. Things started out perfectly for them when Trindon Holliday returned the opening punt of the game an NFL playoff record 90 yards for a touchdown. Holliday set another record when he returned the second-half kickoff 104 yards for another touchdown.
How could a team lose with those two huge plays?
“We had opportunities all game long to finish this thing out,” said Denver receiver Brandon Stokley. “It’s as tough as it gets, so disappointing.”
The Ravens, meanwhile, are starting to believe they are a team of destiny, one that came a couple of plays short of advancing to the Super Bowl last year. Riding the emotion of linebacker Ray Lewis’s final season, the defence muscled up the deeper the game went, which set the stage for Flacco’s heroics.
“I was watching it,” Graham said. “It was one of the great plays. I don’t know how it happened, it was just one of those miraculous plays that won’t ever be forgotten.”
No it won’t. Especially by the Broncos.