It took a last-minute 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in regulation and another Corey Graham interception, but the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis are moving on.
A classic AFC divisional playoff matchup ended when rookie Justin Tucker split the uprights from 47 yards out in the second overtime to send the Ravens to a 38-35 victory over the Denver Broncos in front of a stunned crowd of 76,603 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. The fans braved temperatures that were below 10 degrees by game’s end and a negative wind chill.
“That was one of the best football games you’re ever going to see. That football game did the game of football proud,” said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh. “I’m just proud and grateful to have an opportunity to be part of this game. We never wavered, we never cracked.”
Graham, who had an interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, stepped in front of an ill-advised pass by Peyton Manning to give the Ravens the ball at the Broncos’ 45-yard line. A Ray Rice 11-yard run put the Ravens in Tucker’s range and the rookie kicker did the rest.
His field goal sent the Ravens sprinting onto the field in celebration and dropped Lewis to his knees. Lewis’ retirement tour will get at least one more week. The Ravens advanced to a second straight AFC championship game for the first time in team history. They’ll play the winner of Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans.
The top-seeded Broncos, meanwhile, saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end.
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes, two to Torrey Smith, and the other to Jones, who got behind the Broncos defense for the 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds to play.
The 35 points were the most the Ravens have allowed in a playoff game, though two of the touchdowns were on the team’s coverage teams, which picked a wrong time to play their worst game of the season. Trindon Holliday had a 90-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter and a 104-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter.
“It was amazing. All the crazy stuff that went on — a punt return, a kick return — nobody flinched, man,” Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said. “Everybody stayed the path, and that was good for us. We’re excited not to be packing our locker room up and going home.”
Manning’s third touchdown of the day — a 17-yard touchdown pass with just over seven minutes to play, capped a 10-play, 88-yard drive that broke a 28-all deadlock. Demaryius Thomas broke tackles from Lewis and Ed Reed on the play.
After Thomas’ touchdown pass, the Ravens got the ball back and Flacco drove them down to the Broncos’ 31. However, back-to-back drops — the first by Jones on third down and the second by Dennis Pitta on fourth down — turned the ball over on downs.
The Ravens finally stopped Denver, but they had the ball at their own 23 with 1:09 to play. On third down, Flacco broke out of the pocket and fired the 70-yard pass to Jones, who had gotten behind Tony Carter and Rahim Moore.
“It’s almost like backyard football. That’s part of the game,” Harbaugh said. “Joe scrambles out there and he puts a ball downfield really right on the money. It was a great throw on the run. Jacoby Jones kept pressing the deep route.”
Flacco added: “I don’t know. I’m amazed, but it was pretty incredible. We overcame a lot.”
After his third touchdown pass, Flacco backpedaled down the field, his arms extended in celebration. The Broncos then took a knee to put the game into overtime.
“We are the team of destiny,” Rice said.