Ray Lewis: 'Probably one of the greatest victories in Ravens history'
There is no question that the defense hasn't played as well in 2012 as it did last year. Injuries have crippled the Ravens at times, and they're still not at 100 percent. But the defense has played better in the last few weeks, and they did again on Saturday.
Even though the Ravens surrendered lots of first downs and yardage to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, the defense came up big at all the right times. They finished with three turnovers that led to 17 points and played a big role in the Ravens shocking Denver, 38-35, in double overtime in the AFC Divisional playoff Saturday.
The Ravens now advance to the AFC title game next Sunday, playing the winner of the Houston-New England match-up.
On the surface, this didn't look like a great defensive effort as the 35 points the Ravens allowed was the most the defense has given up in a playoff game in franchise history. But the big plays the Ravens made changed everything.
Corey Graham's first-quarter interception turned into seven points when he grabbed a deflected Manning pass and easily ran it in for a 39-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, Pernell McPhee tackled Manning and caused a fumble, which Paul Kruger recovered. That set up another touchdown, and Graham's interception late in the first overtime set up the winning kick.
All of those big plays on defense pushed the Ravens over the top in a win that extended the career of Ray Lewis at least one more week.
"I've never been a part of a game so crazy in my life," Lewis said in his post-game press conference. "We never wavered. We claimed victory on our sidelines. You can't have wavering spirits. For what we did today, i applaud my team. "
The Broncos ended up with 30 first downs and 398 yards of total offense. Manning threw for 290 yards, but the defense played better in the second half and overtime. Lewis finished with 17 tackles and Terrell Suggs added 10 more plus two sacks.
The Ravens actually held the Denver offense to 21 points as 14 came on Trindon Holliday's punt and kick returns for touchdowns. In addition, the defense was able to stop the Broncos in some key short-yardage situations, one of which came in the first overtime and forced Denver to punt.
Even though the Ravens didn't shut down Denver, they slowed the Broncos enough to stay in the game. And all of that paid off with another trip to the AFC Championship game next weekend.
"As a team, what we've done is the reason why we're here now," Lewis said. "I just think we've learned a lot."