Peyton Manning had a brutal end to an otherwise stellar season, as he chucked a bad interception to give the Ravens the ball on Denver's 45 on the fourth possession of overtime.
Rookie Justin Tucker, who was 30-of-33 on field goals in the regular season, did what Billy Cundiff couldn't do a year ago: He made a kick to win a playoff game, as he drilled a 47-yard kick to win the game for the Ravens, 38-35.
In what was the coldest game in Broncos playoff history, we were all treated to the best contest so far in these playoffs. It didn't look like that was going to be the case at first, though.
The Broncos held the Ravens to just one first down on their first drive, and then Trindon Holliday returned the ensuing punt 90 yards for a touchdown—all with less than three minutes of game time having gone by.
At that point, I thought to myself, "This game is over." The Broncos were heavy favorites, they were playing at home and they just got what was essentially a freebie touchdown. Well, the Ravens were not deterred, nor were they overmatched.
Five plays into their next drive, Joe Flacco placed a beautiful deep ball into Torrey Smith's breadbasket for a 59-yard touchdown.
That play was like that moment in Rocky movies when the Italian Stallion finally lands a big blow after getting beat on, and we are soon treated to a music-filled montage of back-and-forth action.
Less than a minute of game time later, Manning threw a well-placed pass to a slanting Eric Decker, but the ball thudded off Decker's hands (a missed pass interference call helped that process along) and right to Corey Graham for a 39-yard pick-six.
The Ravens had a 14-7 lead, but it didn't last. Manning threw two touchdown passes to give the Broncos a 21-14 lead halfway through the second quarter.
At that point, it seemed safe to write the Ravens off again. I should have learned my lesson. With less than a minute left in the half, Torrey Smith made a beautiful play on the ball for a 32-yard touchdown, and the score was knotted at 21 as the two teams headed to the locker room for halftime.
At the start of the second half, Holliday turned his good game into a legendary game when he returned the kickoff for a touchdown (more on his accomplishments below).
The rest of the quarter was a defensive one. Then, nearing the end of the third, Manning fumbled for just the second time in his 20 postseason games. The Ravens recovered on the Broncos' 37, and they converted that fortuitous turn of events into a touchdown to tie the game as we headed to the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, following a wonderful punt, the Broncos began their possession 95 yards away from pay dirt. Manning then marched his team on an 11-play scoring drive that was capped off when Demaryius Thomas grabbed a short pass, broke some tackles and coasted into the end zone.
The broken tackles were uncharacteristic for the Ravens, but that defense was starting to get gassed, as it had spent a lot of time on the field.
On the ensuing possession, with just over three minutes left to play, the Ravens offense was stymied on a fourth down at the Broncos' 35, but their defense stepped up and got the offense the ball back on their own 23 with 1:15 left in the game, which was way more time than they needed.
Shortly after the change of possession, the Broncos' Rahim Moore had one of the worst plays in the history of safeties. With 41 seconds on the clock, Jacoby Jones ran a streak down the sideline. Moore had deep help on that side. He was late to see Jones breaking deep, and then he took a terrible angle to the ball as it sailed over his head and right to Jones, who waltzed in for a game-tying, 70-yard touchdown.
With that, we went to overtime. After three punts and the Manning pick, the Ravens got the win.
The crack stats staff at ESPN sheds some light on just how unique and outstanding Trindon Holliday's day returning the pigskin was:
FROM ELIAS: Trindon Holliday is the 1st player with a Kickoff Return TD and Punt Return TD in the same game in NFL postseason history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2013
#Broncos Trindon Holliday waived by Texans after Wk 5. Joined DEN Wk 6. That's when DEN 11 game win streak started (HOU was 5-0 w/ him too)— Jaime Maggio (@jaimemaggio) January 12, 2013
Take a screen grab of this tweet by the Ravens because it contains the rarest of phrases.
Torrey Smith is officially abusing Champ Bailey right now. 2 catches for 91 yards and 2 TDs.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 12, 2013
Bailey is not used to getting beat, but Smith was outstanding all day.
In the NFL, quarterbacks get too much credit when their teams win and too much blame when they lose. It is something we all know, yet all participate in. Draft Hub's Steve Palazzolo pokes a little fun at that with this tweet:
Peyton really did a good job of coaching up the Broncos special teams this week— Steve Palazzolo (@Draft_Hub) January 12, 2013
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal shed some insight into how the Ravens were able to slow down the Broncos' high-powered offense:
Manning is getting hit a lot and Broncos have zero running game.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) January 13, 2013
Running back Knowshon Moreno was knocked out of this game with a knee injury. His absence not only hurt the running game, but his pass-blocking was sorely missed as well.
How bad was Moore's play on the late touchdown? Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski posed this question:
Can Rahim Moore write that off as a charitable donation?— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 13, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this tweet by WNST's Thyrl Nelson:
Ravens football...it's the most fun you can have while having your guts wrenched for 4 hours straight.— Thyrl Nelson (@Thyrl) January 13, 2013
You don't have to be a Ravens fan—simply a sports fan—to know where Nelson is coming from.