- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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JOHN HARBAUGH AND RAY RICE KNELT ON THE SIDELINE, HOLDING ON TO ONE ANOTHER, JUST BEFORE HARBAUGH PLANTED A KISS ON THE RIGHT temple of his running back. Ray Lewis fell to the ground in disbelieving bliss, looking like he would bury his helmetless head into the grass. Moments later Lewis and Peyton Manning, two legends of the game, exchanged a hug and a handshake.
Those were the pertinent images in the denouement of one of the most exciting and entertaining postseason games in NFL history, one filled with flash, drama and suspense from the opening kickoff until rookie Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime gave the Ravens a 38--35 victory over the Broncos in Denver.
Twenty-eight points, 14 by each team, were scored in the first 11 minutes. There were three returns for touchdowns—Trindon Holliday's 90-yard punt return and 104-yard kickoff return for Denver, and Corey Graham's 39-yard interception of Manning for Baltimore. The score was tied five times.
By the time the game ended in a deep freeze (the temperature had fallen from 13° at kickoff to the low single digits), the fourth-seeded Ravens had ended the top-seeded Broncos' 11-game winning streak, and for the second year in a row had advanced to the AFC Championship Game for a showdown with the Patriots.
"God is amazing when you believe in Him," said the 37-year-old Lewis. "Man believes in the possible. God believes in the impossible."
Baltimore trailed 35--28 late in the fourth quarter when owner Steve Bisciotti texted Harbaugh with a message that Harbaugh shared with his players in a jubilant locker room after the game. "I have never texted you during a game," Harbaugh said, reading Bisciotti's message. "We are down 35--28. But I think it's the best game I've ever seen us play in the playoffs since 2000 [when Baltimore won the Super Bowl]."
It was still 35--28 with less than 40 seconds to go when Flacco launched the most important pass of his career. With Baltimore facing third-and-three at its own 30, Flacco lofted a long, high pass into the frigid air. It seemed to hang forever until it fell into the hands of wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who galloped into the end zone for a game-tying, 70-yard touchdown.
After one overtime period and 102 seconds of another Tucker, who was an amazing 30 of 33 in field goal attempts during the regular season, helped continue Lewis's last ride. Still, it was Flacco who was on the tip of Harbaugh's tongue in the end.
"Will people finally buy how good this guy is?" asked Harbaugh. "I mean, we love him."