Flacco: 'We fought 'til the end'
Even when the circumstances were dire, and the Ravens were trailing by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and unable to move the ball, the message stayed the same.
“Let’s be great.” That’s what they said when they broke every huddle with quarterback Joe Flacco at Mile High Stadium.
On Saturday, Flacco was greater than Peyton Manning in a 38-35 double-overtime victory vs. the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos as the Ravens advanced to the AFC championship game for the second year in a row.
“You have to start taking shots,” Flacco said of coming from behind with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter and no timeouts. “You have to get a little lucky.”
On 3rd-and-3, Flacco stepped up in the pocket to hurl a 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the score at 35 and send the game into overtime.
"I can't compare it to anything," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "This has been pretty incredible, and unexplainable."
The Broncos had coverage, but cornerback Tony Carter pulled up when he saw Flacco on the move. Safety Rahim Moore took a bad angle and allowed Jones to get behind him as he eased in for the score.
It was Jones’ first catch of the game, and for once he was at a loss for a celebration dance.
“Once I got into the end zone all I could do is thank God,” Jones said. “I’m a dancing fool. I couldn't even dance.”
The teams were scoreless in the first 15 minutes of overtime. But early in the second stanza, rookie kicker Justin Tucker nailed a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens the upset victory.
“When you get everybody to buy in it’s so special when you see it,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who will retire after 17 seasons when the playoffs end. He had a team-high 17 tackles in his second game since tearing his triceps Oct. 14. “To come in here and win, being 9-, 10-point underdogs, that’s the beauty of sports. If I'll miss anything about my career it’s listening to people say things you can’t do and then go do it.”
The Ravens only had one turnover when Flacco fumbled the snap on Denver’s 43 that short-circuited what appeared to be a promising drive with Baltimore trailing 28-21 in the third quarter. It didn't cost the Ravens any points.
Manning's miscues did. He committed all three of Denver’s that turned into 17 points for Baltimore.
It was a complete role reversal from their first meeting in Week 15. Then, Flacco committed two turnovers that led to 10 points as the Ravens fell at home 34-17.
Flacco is 7-4 in playoff games, five of them coming on the road which tied an NFL record. He showed composure in the pocket as he hit Torrey Smith for touchdown strikes of 59 and 32 yards in the first half to keep them in the game that easily could've gotten away.
Trindon Holliday returned a punt 89 yards for Denver's first TD. Holliday also had a 104-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter that broke a 21-21 tie. But Flacco, who is due for a new contract in the off-season, made a statement for the second game in a row. In last week's 24-9 win vs. the Indianapolis Colts, he had just 12 completions for 282 yards, 2 TDs and no turnovers.
“Joe proves he’s a winner,” said Smith. “We need him to win. We need him to make plays and he does that for us.”
Corey Graham intercepted a pass by Manning, which deflected off the hands of receiver Eric Decker, and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Ravens ahead 14-7.
The score was tied after each of the first five quarters. With Paul Kruger chasing Manning on second down with 3:47 left in the first overtime, Manning tried to throw across his body to the middle of the field. Graham came underneath for his second interception at their 45.
The Broncos had won 11 games in a row and were the AFC’s top seed. The New England Patriots with Tom Brady are the No. 2 seed. They host the Houston Texans in a divisional game Sunday and the Ravens will play the winner next Sunday.
So much for another Manning vs. Brady AFC title game. Flacco finished 18-for-34 for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns. Manning went 28-for-43 for 290 yards, 3 TDs and 2 interceptions.
“A lot of people like to use that elite word. They like to throw that around but when it comes down to it he’s not asked to do things that those other quarterbacks are doing,” Smith said. “If we play that type of style I believe he could do it. I think he proves time and time again he’s a winner in games like this.”
Harbaugh became the first coach in NFL history to win 5 consecutive road games. Running back Ray Rice’s 1-yard TD run in the third quarter gave him 5 for his postseason career, a franchise record. Smith became the first Ravens player to catch more than 1 TD in a postseason game.
Rice only had 27 yards rushing in the first half, but the Ravens stuck with him. After Pernell McPhee sacked Manning to force a fumble that was recovered by Kruger on the Broncos’ 37, Rice ran the ball on five consecutive plays.
He punched the ball in from 1 yard out on third down to tie the score at 28. Manning executed a 10-play, 77-yard drive in the fourth quarter to put the Broncos ahead 35-28 on Demaryius Thomas' 17-yard catch-and-run with less than 8 minutes left.
That's when Flacco found Jones. And in the second overtime, Rice got 11 yards on a draw play on 2nd-and-10 to set up Tucker, who kicked the winning field goal from the 29.
“I wasn’t trying to be anything fancy with the run,” said Rice, who lost two fumbles last week. “I had gotten a key first down to get the drive going to get us in range.
“All I was thinking about was getting to the 30. I know my man Tuck is money from that distance. And what was smart what we did was let the (first overtime) quarter play out. We had the wind with us.”
And finally, after losing four of their last five regular season games, the Ravens have the momentum.