- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
But because Peyton Manning had played passably and because the usually top-notch Baltimore special teams had allowed Denver's Trindon Holliday to return a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, the Ravens found themselves down 35--28, with the ball at the Baltimore 23 and 69 seconds to go. On first down Flacco just missed Pitta about 18 yards up the right side, and he scrambled for seven yards on second. Now it was time, as the clock ticked down on the Ravens' season.
0:40 ... 0:39 ... 0:38....
Miller's lunge had forced the trajectory of Flacco's throw higher than usual, and the ball hung up in the night air. Carter slowed for no apparent reason; Jones began tracking the pass on its cross-stadium flight; and Moore sprinted into the fray. The ball landed in Jones's arms as Moore desperately and awkwardly flailed for it, having timed his leap, cruelly—and familiarly, to any athlete—a moment too soon. Flacco had covered 55 yards in the air, from his 25 to the Broncos' 20, and all you could see from the opposite end zone, 90 yards away, was one vivid image: Directly in the sight line between the end zone and the catch that will live in Baltimore sports history was Broncos safety Jim Leonhard, a former Raven, dropping suddenly to a crouch as if he'd been hit in the head with a two-by-four.
When Jones returned to the Baltimore sideline, after hugging everyone in sight, he looked into Flacco's eyes and screamed, "SMOKIN' JOE!"
IT WASN'T over. "I couldn't feel my face," says Birk, "but that was O.K. We were still playing [overtime]—and Joe was moving us. Do you know how hard it is to throw in negative wind chill?"
Nonetheless, Flacco had one more play to make. Third-and-13 from the Baltimore three, six minutes left in the first OT. The crowd—amazingly, there were just 129 no-shows among a freezing throng of 76,732, and it looked as if no one had left—sensed the Broncos could win it with one more defensive stop, a Baltimore punt from deep in its territory, and a first down or two to get Denver into field goal range. Flacco sent Pitta up the right seam and threw a perfect high ball that Pitta caught over Leonhard. Gain of 24. Talking later, Flacco seemed as proud of that throw as the long TD. "It was big," he said, "because we were able to flip the field." Big is an understatement. After the Ravens eventually punted, Denver took over at its own seven ... and three minutes later Manning threw his worst pass since the Tracy Porter pick in Super Bowl XLIV three years ago.
That was it. The Ravens sealed the deal on Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal in the second minute of the sixth quarter of the fourth-longest game in NFL history—a four-hour, 11-minute classic. Baltimore 38, Denver 35.
"Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome," said Lewis.
The win, yes. But Flacco's January poise too. The Ravens advance to play in their second straight AFC title game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, 364 days after the still painful first one, in which Flacco outplayed Tom Brady but lost on a dropped TD and a missed field goal. In his last three playoff games—that one in Foxborough and the two played this month, against the Colts and the Broncos—Flacco has thrown for 919 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception.
"Will people finally buy how good this guy is?" asks coach John Harbaugh. "I mean, we love him."