The Ravens weren’t supposed to win this game. It wasn’t even supposed to be close.
They heard that all week long, but told themselves one thing.
“What if we do the impossible?” linebacker
On numerous occasions Saturday, it looked like it was indeed going to be impossible.
The Broncos returned a punt for a touchdown in the first three minutes. They opened the second half with a kickoff return for a touchdown. The Ravens were pinned back with a minute left and no timeouts, trailing by a touchdown.
But the Ravens fought. And they fought. And they fought again.
And at the end of it, they left Mile High with an overtime 38-35 win over the AFC’s top-seeded Denver Broncos – an improbable win in the most improbable of ways.
The Ravens are headed to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.
They’ll play either the New England Patriots or Houston Texans on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. But after Saturday’s win, they don’t even care who they face.
When Head Coach John Harbaugh walked to the postgame press conference he opened by saying, “Thanks for bearing witness to one of the greatest football games you're ever going to see.”
“That football game did the game of football proud. I’m just proud and grateful for the chance to be associated with this game. … Grateful for the opportunity to stand with a bunch of men, who through an incredible amount of adversity stood together, never wavered, never cracked.”
They intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning – the man that had beat them nine straight times – in overtime, setting up a 47-yard game-winning field goal by rookie
Flacco outdueled Manning, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns, with one fumbled snap. Manning threw for 290 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and had one fumble.
Baltimore overcame punch to the gut after punch to the gut. And afterwards, it made them feel all them stronger for it.
Player after player said it was the craziest game they had ever been a part of, and the most miraculous victory. For a team that came a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl last year, then went through so much turmoil this year, the Ravens have a strong belief in themselves now.
“We are the team of destiny,” running back
The game couldn’t have started more disastrously for the Ravens. Baltimore punted on its first drive and Broncos returner Trindon Holliday returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.
It was the longest punt return for a touchdown in NFL postseason history and the first touchdown allowed by the Ravens special teams unit this season.
The Ravens answered for the first of many times.
After a pass interference call gave them a first down, Flacco found wide receiver
Manning got the ball for the first time on the next drive. But his second pass of the game was broken up by cornerback
Manning was sharper from then on. He orchestrated an 11-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley that tied the score at 14.
Manning started to catch fire. Without any pressure in his face, he swiftly moved the Broncos down the field on an eight-play, 86-yard drive in just 3:35, capped off by a perfect 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos went on top, 21-14.
Denver marched back down the field again, but kicker Matt Prater’s foot hit the turf well short of the ball and his 52-yard field goal was shanked.
Given good starting field position, Flacco quickly pushed the Ravens down the field. He shook off a sack for a 10-yard gain to
Smith adjusted well and leapt over Bailey to haul in the catch. It was a 32-yarder that tied the game at 21 heading into halftime. Smith, who finished the game with three catches for 98 yards, became the first Ravens receiver to notch two touchdown passes in a postseason game.
“I just beat him; I can’t really say there was any science to it,” Smith said. “He’s a great player. He’s actually one of my favorite players. He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor.”
But just as the game started horribly for the Ravens, so did the second half.
The special teams unit fell flat again, allowing Holliday to return the second half’s opening kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest kickoff return for a touchdown in NFL postseason history.
After not allowing a single special teams touchdown all year, the Ravens shockingly gave up two in the same game. And just like that, the Ravens were again behind, 28-21.
“When that kickoff return went back, we never wavered,” Lewis said. “We claimed victory on our sideline.”
Baltimore’s offense was on the move on the next drive, and reached Broncos territory. But Flacco fumbled the snap and it was recovered by Denver linebacker Keith Brooking.
The Ravens defense caused a turnover of its own two drives later, however. Defensive end
Running back Ray Rice took it from there, busting up the middle for a 32-yard gain, then muscling his way into the end zone from one yard out to tie the game at 28 heading into the fourth quarter.
Each team traded punts before the Broncos took over deep in their territory. This time, the Ravens helped Denver via penalties. Brown was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul, then cornerback
Manning found receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 17-yard touchdown with 7:11 remaining. Thomas weaved through traffic and safety
The Ravens drove back down the field to try to tie the game. But Jones dropped a third-down pass and a fourth-down pass was tipped and bounced off tight end
But the defense eventually stopped Denver and Baltimore’s offense got the ball back with 1:09 remaining at its own 23. Flacco was incomplete on first down, then scrambled up the middle for seven yards on second down.
On third down, pressure came around the outside. Flacco stepped up and heaved a bomb.
Somehow, Jones had slipped behind Denver’s prevent defense. He hauled in the pass over a leaping Broncos defender and raced into the end zone for a stunning 70-yard score with 31 seconds remaining to tie the game at 35.
“I looked up and lo and behold, there’s the ball,” Jones said.
“You have to get a little bit lucky, and it worked out,” Flacco added. “We were able to take a shot, and everybody came through when that one opportunity kind of arose.”
Bring on overtime.
The Ravens got the ball first in overtime but were stopped. Then the Broncos got it and were stuffed on two short rushing attempts. Baltimore got it again backed up deep against its end zone, and was able to do just enough to flip field position.
Manning got a second chance, and started rolling the Broncos down the field. But then the Ravens pressured him. Kruger came off the edge, flushing Manning out to his right. He tried to force a pass to Stokley and Graham stepped in front for his second interception of the day.
The Ravens were set up in Broncos territory, and pounded forward with Rice from there. They were able to get into Tucker’s field goal range and the rookie jogged out.
Baltimore was booted from the playoffs when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in last year’s AFC championship game. This time, the rookie came up and hit it straight through the uprights, setting off a wild Ravens celebration.
As outside linebacker
“Baltimore, we rough in the playoffs,” he yelled. “You know you all had them picked. Sorry to destroy your [Tom] Brady-Manning AFC championship.”
And with that, the Ravens hugged and celebrated all the way back to Baltimore.
“That will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history,” Lewis said. “It’s probably because of how everything was stacked against [us] coming in.”