Thriller in Denver as Ravens beat Broncos
Baltimore quarterback's 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game and a 47-yard field goal in overtime put an end to Denver's season
Welcome to NFL immortality, Joe Flacco.
Somewhere up there in the all-time play-off archives near the "Hail Mary" by Roger Staubach and the "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris now lives the "Flacco Fling" by the Baltimore Ravens quarterback.
One big throw down the sideline, 70 make-or-break yards on a wing and a prayer - a high, arcing touchdown pass that soared through the icy air, flew over two defenders, landed in the hands of Jacoby Jones, saved the game for Baltimore and kept Ray Lewis' 17-year career going for at least one more week.
The record will show Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime period to give the Ravens a 38-35 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. But it was so much more. It was a crazy, back-and-forth instant classic of an AFC divisional play-off game. The highlight? That would be Flacco's game-tying touchdown to Jones on third-and-three from the 30 with 31 seconds left in regulation and no timeouts.
"At that point," Flacco said, "you have to start taking shots. You have to get a little lucky."
And while Flacco gets to celebrate that throw, Manning will have a long off-season to think about a really bad one.
On Denver's second possession of overtime, he stopped and threw across his body to the middle of the field and into the arms of Ravens cornerback Corey Graham at Denver's 45. Baltimore ran five plays and gained 16 yards before Tucker sailed his winning kick inside the right upright.
The Manning throw, intended for Brandon Stokley, was one that quarterbacks from junior high to the pros are advised not to make. It's a throw that unravelled all the good Manning has accomplished during this, his comeback season from neck surgery during which he threw for 37 touchdowns and led the Broncos (13-4) to top seeding in the AFC.
"Yeah, bad throw," Manning said. "Probably the decision wasn't great either. I thought I had an opening, and I didn't get enough on it, and I was trying to make a play and certainly a throw I'd like to have back."
Lewis, who led the Ravens with 17 tackles over this nearly 77-minute game, kneeled down to the ground and put his helmet on the rock-solid turf when it was over. "I've never been a part of a game so crazy in my life," he said.
After he thaws out, the Ravens, 9½-point underdogs for this one, will get ready for a game at either New England or Houston in the AFC title game.
This game, the longest since the Browns beat the New York Jets 23-20 in 1987, was an all-timer - up there with San Diego's 41-38 double-overtime victory over Miami when it comes to drama, momentum shifts and the unexpected. But Flacco's throw might best be bookended next to one made by Dallas quarterback Staubach, who famously brought the term "Hail Mary" to football after his game-winning toss to Drew Pearson beat Minnesota in the 1975 play-offs.
Staubach was near midfield when he threw his. Flacco, who finished with 331 yards and three scores, was standing at the 25 for his throw, buying time in the pocket when he saw Jones sprinting down the right sideline into double coverage.
Defensive back Tony Carter slowed up and let Jones streak by him. Instead of staying step for step with Jones, safety Rahim Moore tried to leap and knock down the ball. Flacco, who throws the high, deep ball as well as anyone, got it over Moore's head and into Jones' hands.
"I started to step up in the pocket and I kept my eye on the safety's depth at that point," Flacco said. "Just felt I had a shot of maybe getting over him. At that point in the game, you don't have any timeouts, when you've got to go a pretty decent length you've got to start taking shots at some point. It happened to work out."
Jones caught it and pranced into the end zone, blowing kisses towards the crowd. "I was kissing to God. I was thanking the Lord," Jones said. "I don't disbelieve in myself. I've been believing in myself since I was born. Never no disbelief."
Moore was on the verge of tears after the game. "The loss, it was my fault," Moore said. "I got a little too happy. It was pathetic. My fault. Next time I'll make that play."
The teams were tied at 14 after the first quarter, 21 at half-time, 28 after three quarters and at 35-35 after regulation.
They punted three times to start overtime, the last of them setting up Denver on their seven-yard line.
Manning was moving the Broncos along slowly and steadily. But on second-and-six from the 38, he rolled to his right, stopped, planted and threw across the field towards Stokley at the right hash mark. Graham stepped in front of the receiver for the interception. The Ravens D-back also had a first-quarter interception, which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
On many days, the two interceptions would have made him the star of the game. On this day - he was just another player making big plays for Baltimore. Even he was amazed at the Flacco-Jones touchdown.
"It was one of those miraculous plays," Graham said. "I don't think it'll ever be forgotten."
Manning, wearing an orange-and-grey glove to get more feel in the icy weather, finished 28 for 43 for 290 yards and accounted for all three Denver turnovers - the two picks and a lost fumble that set up the touchdown that tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter.
Combined, the mistakes nullified a record-setting day for returner Trindon Holliday, who returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a kick-off 104 yards for another score. Both were play-off records for longest returns, as was the 248 total return yards he had.
This was, more or less, the unthinkable for the Broncos, who came in on an 11-game winning streak and the odds-on favourites, at 3-1, to win the Super Bowl - in Manning's hometown of New Orleans, no less.
Instead, this loss goes down with the most devastating in Denver history. Right there with the 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 4, 1997 - another year when Denver looked very much like Super Bowl material.
"We did a lot of good things this season, but as of right now, it's hard to think about anything besides the loss," Manning said.