Ravens vs. Broncos: Winners and Losers from Baltimore's Playoff Win
The Baltimore Ravens have shocked the world with a 38-35 upset over the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round. This double-overtime thriller ended after a 47-yard Justin Tucker field goal set up by a Corey Graham interception.
This interception was the third turnover of the game for Peyton Manning, and it put the Ravens just outside field-goal range. Four Ray Rice runs later, the Ravens felt comfortable enough to send Tucker in to kick the game-winner.
It was a gutsy comeback for a Baltimore team that spent much of the game playing from behind. On four different occasions, the Ravens were down by a touchdown. Every time, though, they somehow rallied and brought the game back to a tie.
With this win, the Ravens are now back in the AFC Championship for the second year in a row. They will get a rematch against the New England Patriots or they will face a Houston Texans team that thrashed them 43-13 earlier this season.
Either way, storylines are plentiful for either AFC Championship matchup, even though it isn't the Brady vs. Manning showdown that everyone seemed to want.
The Ravens do not win this game without heroic efforts by multiple players. Here are the winners in this game, as well as the losers that disappointed Saturday, despite the victory.
Winner: Jacoby Jones
Usually when Jacoby Jones has a big game, it's because of his kick-return prowess. That wasn't the case in this game, though, as Jones was greatly overshadowed by the record-breaking day Trindon Holliday had on the other side of the ball.
Jones returned four kickoffs, averaging a meager 16 yards per return. He returned a punt return as well, taking it back 14 yards.
Jones' biggest impact came with a monster play on the Ravens' final drive in regulation. He had dropped a catch on third down the drive before, and it seemed likely the Ravens' only prayer would come from targeting Torrey Smith.
Yet on 3rd-and-3 from his 30-yard line, Joe Flacco looked Jones' way. Despite being in double coverage, Jones got past both his men and was wide open deep in Denver territory.
Flacco threw the deep ball and suddenly Jones had scored a 70-yard touchdown, tying the game again. He would later add a seven-yard catch putting his total for the day at two catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Loser: Ravens Secondary
Despite being picked off by Corey Graham twice, Peyton Manning did not have a bad game. He threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, frequently burning the Ravens secondary.
No one Broncos receiver dominated the game. Manning instead opted to spread the ball out, even throwing a touchdown to running back Knowshon Moreno when he noticed he was covered by Dannell Ellerbe.
Graham himself had some bad covering plays, particularly the first-quarter touchdown he allowed to Brandon Stokley. Ed Reed also disappointed, as he missed tackles and had a generally ineffective game.
There were also multiple penalties called on the secondary, including a defensive holding penalty on Cary Williams that negated a third-down stop. There was also a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty called on Chykie Brown.
Winner: Ray Rice
He may not have had the flashiest of days, but Ray Rice did good playing against the Broncos' stingy run defense.
Rice put up 131 rushing yards on the Broncos. It was almost entirely the result of volume with Rice getting 30 carries in the game, but still that is an all-together respectable number against a defense that allowed 91.1 rushing yards per game in the regular season.
The Broncos defense clearly looked worn down as the game went on, and it was later in the game where Rice had his success. He got almost to the goal line on a 32-yard run and then punched in a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game in the third quarter.
We even saw Rice running late in the fourth quarter for once, despite the fact that the Ravens were trailing by seven. Jim Caldwell was reluctant to give up on the run game, something I doubt that Cam Cameron would have done in this situation.
Finally, Rice delivered the final offense blow in overtime. The Corey Graham interception left the Ravens just out of field-goal range and four Rice carries helped them get the ball to a place where Justin Tucker was certain he could convert the field goal.
Loser: Return Coverage Teams
Although the Broncos offense had a good game, their special teams and dynamic returner Trindon Holliday were responsible for the Broncos holding the lead in most of regulation.
At the expense of the Ravens kick and punt coverage teams, Holliday had a historic game. He became the first player to score both a kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown in a postseason game.
On both of Holiday's touchdowns, there were no Ravens around him. The punt return touchdown saw zero Ravens on the right side of the field, likely giving Holliday one of the easier touchdowns of his career as he only had to beat Sam Koch.
This is not the first time the Ravens' coverage team has flared up as a weakness. That's clearly an area that needs to be improved for the Ravens to make their second Super Bowl appearance.
Winner: Offensive Line
Denver's vaunted pass rush has been one of the top reasons why its defense is so good. Yet Saturday, it was able to manage only one sack, a sack that only happened because of a mishandled snap between Joe Flacco and Matt Birk.
The new offensive line looked great in its second game together. Both Bryant McKinnie and the often-criticized Michael Oher did not allow either Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller to get after Flacco.
It was also great in run-blocking, with Ray Rice averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Even with this being a long and exhausting game, the offensive line did not tire and did a great job protecting Flacco.
Loser: Sam Koch
Most weeks, Sam Koch's numbers Saturday would not put him in the losers category. With this being the fourth-longest game in NFL postseason history, it's not surprising that Koch punted eight times on the day.
His average ended up being only 37 yards a punt, a slightly down number for him. Koch also was responsible for getting the first punt of the day directly to Trindon Holliday, and Koch failed to tackle him despite being the only player that had a good angle on him.
Koch's worst punt of the day came in the first overtime where he punted for only 35 yards. However, it did put Denver deep in its territory, so he was thankfully bailed out as the ball rolled several yards forward after the punt.
Winner: Justin Tucker
Quite simply in the playoffs, you need to have a clutch placekicker that will make any type of kick he's asked to take. Even if it is freezing cold outside and he's in a hostile stadium under extremely intense circumstances.
Justin Tucker continues to prove himself to be one of the more clutch kickers in the league today. He only needed to attempt one field goal, but he was sure to get it through the uprights.
There was no doubt as Tucker's kick cleared the uprights from 47 yards out. With only three misses on the season and none in the postseason, there's only confidence coming from the team whenever Tucker has to attempt a kick.