In the first double overtime game since the 2003 divisional playoffs, the 4th seed Baltimore Ravens beat the 1st seed Denver Broncos 38-35 in the 4th longest game in NFL history. The 35 points given up by the Ravens are the most in franchise playoff history. On the offensive side, the Ravens had an amazing 479 yards of offense. Coming into the game, almost nobody gave the Ravens a chance to win but, they came together as a team to win this one. The Ravens will play in the AFC Championship game on Sunday at 6:30 ET on the road against the winner of the Patriots Texans game today.
If the Ravens lost this game, most of the blame would have gone to the punt and kickoff coverage units. On the first punt of the game, they allowed Broncos returner Trindon Holliday to go 90 yards for a touchdown. On the return, there was one Ravens player on the far side of the field (from a TV perspective), other that P Sam Koch. Holliday just took the punt down the far side of the field and scored. Brendon Ayanbadejo missed a tackle and Holliday was gone. Giving up a punt return for a touchdown is one thing but, having about nine players on the wring side of the field is another. Some of them should be their for contain but not nine of them.
They weren’t done after allowing that punt return either. To start second half, the Ravens kicked off. Holliday took the ball out of his endzone and ran it 104 yards for a touchdown. On this play, Holliday just found a hole and made the most of it. He touched but, there wasn’t a good tackle attempt on the return. With these two plays, Holliday had the longest punt and kick return touchdowns in NFL postseason history. After these two plays, Holliday never really had a good opportunity to return a punt or kick because the Ravens did the right thing and kicked away from him.
I just want to make a quick note about the referees. Throughout the game there were questionable calls that went against both teams. They also took a long time to make some decisions and what to call.
In the regular season matchup against the Broncos, Flacco had a QBR of 0.4. This week, Flacco led a late comeback to tie the game in regulation and then played good in overtime. With this win, he now has five playoff road wins and will play in his 3rd AFC Championship game in only five seasons. Starting with the stats, he went 18-of-34 for 331 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 fumble, a QBR of 65.3, and a QB rating of 116.2. Throughout the game, Flacco’s snap count was good as he was able to get the Broncos to jump offsides at least three times. He was also aware enough to snap the ball when the Broncos had twelve men on the field. Part of the Ravens gameplan was to throw the ball downfield and Flacco was able to do this. He was able to accomplish this by averaging 18.4 yards per completion. Early in the game he had a perfect deep pass to Torrey Smith for a 59 yard touchdown. A little bit later, Flacco overthrew Smith who had a few steps on his man again. This also would have been a touchdown. In overtime, he had a great pass to Dennis Pitta on 3rd and 13 for a first down. On the negative side, he fumbled a snap at midfield and the Broncos were able to recover it. With four minutes left in OT, he had an interception dropped near midfield.
The play that impressed me the most was the 70 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation. Not only did this tie the game up, Flacco did a great job on this play. It was a 3rd and 3 and as soon as the ball was snapped, Flacco was under pressure from the outside. Due to this pressure, Flacco stepped up in the pocket and threw it about 55 yards in the air. This was a great play because Flacco rarely steps up into the pocket and makes a pass. This is the sign of an elite quarterback. If you watch Peyton Manning, you will notice that he steps up in the pocket most of the time when he feels pressure. This is a great thing to be able to do as a quarterback.
Overall, Flacco’s performance is the sign of an elite quarterback. He was able to led his team on a game tying drive with about one minute left, on the road, against the number two defense in the NFL, in the playoffs. He was also able to outperform one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Peyton Manning, who finished with 2 interceptions and 1 fumble.
After fumbling twice last week, Rice turned in a great performance. On 30 carries, Rice was able to gain 131 yards and 1 touchdown. It seemed like most of his carries came in the second half and overtime. At one point in overtime, almost every first down play was a run to Rice. Of his 30 rushes, 3 of them went for first downs (by my count). The first of these was the Ravens first 3rd down conversion in the game. The second of these was a 32 yard run that put the Ravens inside the Broncos 5-yard line. On the ensuing 3rd and goal, Rice was able to run for the touchdown from one yard out. This touchdown gave Rice his five career postseason touchdowns which is a Ravens team record.
Boldin continues to be a first down machine for the Ravens offense. He had 6 catches for 71 yards on 11 targets. Of his 6 catches, 5 went for first downs. One of these first downs was on the final drive in the 1st half. Another first down was on the first drive of overtime. Every time the Ravens needed a first down, Flacco would look for Boldin.
While Boldin is a first down machine, Smith is the big play receiver. He had 3 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 targets. Each of his catches was for a touchdown or a first down. The first touchdown was for 59 yards on 2nd and 2. Smith went deep and just ran right past Broncos star CB Champ Bailey. This touchdown was needed because the Broncos had just returned a punt for a touchdown. This touchdown is the 2nd longest passing play in Ravens postseason history. The second touchdown was with 36 seconds left in the 1st half. Smith went deep on Bailey again and again scored on him. Flacco threw the ball a little behind to try and give Smith a better opportunity. Smith was able to stop his momentum and catch the ball while Bailey couldn’t. With his second touchdown, Smith became the first Ravens player to have two receiving touchdowns in a playoff game. In overtime, Smith was able to draw a pass interference on a 3rd and 5 play on the Ravens first drive. This drive didn’t result in points but it helped in the field position battle. Throughout the game, Smith was beating one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Champ Bailey, on the deep passes.
Before his 70 yard touchdown catch, Jones wasn’t having a good game. On a kickoff, he wasn’t able to catch it properly and after he got the ball, he was only able to get the ball to about the 6-yard line. Even worse than this, was his drop on 3rd and 5 with 3 minutes left. Flacco put the pass right in hands and Jones dropped it. After the Ravens couldn’t convert the 4th down play, it looked like the game was over. However, Jones more than made up for his drop with his 70 yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds left. Before this play happened, the Broncos had a 97.2% chance of winning according to ESPN Stats and Information. On the play, Jones was able to run past the cornerback and the safety took a bad angle and run under the pass. Once Jones caught it he had a free run to the endzone. Other than that play, he had 1 catch for 7 yards on 4 targets.
In the first meeting between these two teams, backup TE Ed Dickson was injured and didn’t play. This meant the Ravens couldn’t run many two TE sets. These week he was healthy and the Ravens ran many two TE sets. Dickson had 3 catches for 29 yards on 4 targets. Two of these catches went for first downs. Starter Dennis Pitta had 3 catches for 55 yards on 5 targets. He had three first downs including one on the final drive in the 1st half and a 3rd and 13 from their own 3-yard line in overtime.
There aren’t enough good things that I can say about the offensive line after that game. The biggest key on offense was the offensive line. The line stood up to the challenge and gave Flacco lots of time to throw all game long. They allowed 1 sack but that was a coverage sack as Flacco just couldn’t find anyone to pass to. In the running game, they opened up holes all game long. While the longest run was only 32 yards, there were lots of runs for about 5 yards. The line was only called for one penalty and that was a false start on LG Kelechi Osemele. The other guard, Marshal Yanda, was very impressive because of two plays. The first was Rice’s touchdown run. Yanda pulled and took out his guy, pushing him down into the endzone. This block allowed Rice to score. The other play was the last play of the first OT. Rice ran the ball and was being held up but, Yanda came over and pushed the pile for about 2 yards which was enough to get the first down and, more importantly, put the Ravens in field goal range to win the game.
McPhee’s name was only called once yesterday but it was for a great play. On a 3rd and 11, McPhee, as well as a few others, was able to get pressure on Peyton Manning. McPhee was able to hit the ball out of Manning’s hand. The Ravens recovered this fumble at the Broncos 37-yard line. McPhee finished with 2 tackles but, this play was huge for the Ravens as they hadn’t been getting any pressure on Manning. In fact, in the 1st half, the Ravens didn’t get any pressure on 22 passes but, in the 2nd half, they had 10 pressures on 24 passes.
Let’s continue with the Ravens who had sacks. Suggs had the Ravens other two sacks. The first was a complicated sack of Manning. On the play, Manning fumbled and it looked like the Ravens recovered. However, it looked like Manning’s knee was down on the replays that were shown. This didn’t even end up mattering because both Suggs and Cary Williams were called for illegal use of hands to the face. The call on Suggs was ticky tack and there never was a replay to show what Williams did. Despite all this, Suggs still got credit for a sack and a forced fumble. This was the first time that Suggs ever sacked Manning. The second sack came on a 3rd and 4 on the Broncos drive after Rice scored his touchdown. Suggs pushed his lineman back right into Manning. In pass coverage, Suggs gave up one completion. Suggs was able to finish with 10 tackles and his two sacks were the first for him since week 12 against the Chargers.
While Kruger didn’t get a sack yesterday, he still had pressure and recorded 2 QB hits. One of these was on the Broncos first offensive play in overtime and the other was on the play were Manning threw his last interception, which set up the Ravens to win the game. This second pressure was very important. Kruger forced Manning to scramble out of the pocket and Manning then tried to throw across his body but, it was intercepted. On McPhee’s sack, Kruger had some pressure and was able to recover the fumble. In the run game, Kruger had a run stop for a loss of one. In the passing game, he gave up one completion and was able to blow up a WR screen. He forced Manning to just throw the ball into the ground on this play because Kruger was right in the way.
Like the last few weeks, this was another solid game for Ellerbe. He allowed 4 catches for 1 touchdown. The touchdown came when he had to lineup at cornerback because of the Broncos formation. Therefore, you can’t exactly blame Ellerbe for this as he never has to play out there. He was able to breakup a 2nd and 5 slant route which would have been a first down. In run defense, Ellerbe stopped a 2nd and 1 run play for no gain with 2 minutes left in overtime. Earlier in the game, he was called for a facemask on a play where his hand just grazed the helmet of the ball carrier. Ellerbe finished with 9 tackles and 1 pass defense.
When you look at the box score, one stat that sticks out is the 17 tackles that Lewis had. This is an amazing total, especially for a 37 year old linebacker. Lewis is giving it his all to make it back to the Super Bowl for one last time. When in pass coverage, Lewis gave up 3 completions for 1 first down. He was also called for a pass interference call. However, the pass interference probably was better than what would have happened if the receiver caught the ball as there was an open field behind Lewis. Lewis made one great play in run defense. He broke through the line and stopped the running back for a loss of 3 yards after Courtney Upshaw slowed him down a little. Most importantly, Lewis was able to get the defense to stop the Broncos and not let them run the clock out at the end of the 4th quarter. Even though they gave up a first down almost right away, they didn’t give up another and gave the offense about one minute to score.
If you had to pick a defensive MVP for this game, it would be Graham. This is because of his two interception. First though, lets talk about the other things he did. He allowed 3 completions for 1 touchdown. The touchdown was just a great pass by Manning and there really wasn’t much that Graham could have done. Graham blitzed a few times and on one of them, he was able force Manning to throw the ball away. Now on to the interception. The first came on a 3rd and 7 and was Manning’s second pass of the game. Chykie Brown had good coverage on the play and was able to deflect the ball right to Graham who then went untouched for a 39 yard touchdown. This gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead only 5 minutes into the game. His interception for a touchdown is the fifth in Ravens playoff history. The second interception was just as important as the first. There was 51 seconds left in the first overtime. Kruger’s pressure forced Manning out of the pocket and Graham was able to step in front of Manning’s pass. Since there was no return, the ball was at the Broncos 45-yard line. With the second interception, Graham became the 6th player to have a two interception game in the past five postseasons. Interestingly, he becomes the 3rd Raven to do this in the same span along with Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb.
All four of the passes that Williams allowed went for first downs. He also had two penalties that gave first downs to the Broncos. The first was an illegal hand to the face and the other was a holding call. The holding was on a 3rd and 3 and negated a good pass breakup by himself. A positive for Williams was a nice hit that broke up a pass.
As said above, Brown had great coverage on Graham’s interception return for a touchdown. In pass coverage, Brown allowed 2 catches for 1 first down. The only other thing of note was that he was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit when his helmet hit the receiver in the facemask.
All throughout the game, Reed’s name wasn’t called much. However, that was actually a good thing for the Ravens, and not because Reed isn’t good. The reason is that Manning wasn’t passing it downfield very much. Almost all of the Broncos passes were either in the short or intermediate range. Manning obviously didn’t want to test Reed in such an important game. Other than this, Reed was late coming over on Knowshon Moreno’s touchdown run and missed an tackle on Demaryius Thomas’s touchdown catch.
Now Tucker has his first game winning kick in the playoffs. He kicked a 47 yard field goal in the second overtime to win the game for the Ravens. This was the 4th longest overtime field goal in playoff history and was the longest kicked by a rookie. Tucker said that in warmups, he made a 67 yard field goal. During the break between the first and second overtime, Tucker went out to take a few practice kicks because the Ravens were close to getting a field goal. I have never seen this happen before and according Mike Pereira, there is no penalty for this but, referees are told to not allow this to happen. These practice kicks were important to Tucker because they helped him gauge the wind in the stadium. After the game, when asked about the game, Tucker said “Nobody wavered, we were all confident in each other.” The decision to keep Tucker over veteran Billy Cundiff looks even better now. Nobody knows what Cundiff would have done in the same situation but, his miss in the AFC Championship game last year would have had to be in the back of his head.