In a vintage, blue-collar, never-quit fashion, the Ravens defeated the Denver Broncos, 38-35, in a thrilling AFC division postseason thriller.
This was certainly a game for the ages.
Some are even going as far as calling this Broncos defeat a “shocker.”
But let’s strip emotion and be honest. Was this game really that stunning?
Perhaps it was, to people outside Baltimore who do not know much about the Ravens (or just secretly hate this team because they are deemed a bunch of thugs).
Frankly, this game was not stunning at all.
To say the outcome of this game is stunning is foolish and goes to show just how much some people undervalue the power of intangibles—something that teams like the Ravens routinely possess.
Here’s the bottom line.
This game was an instant classic. It pitted a gritty, battle-tested Ravens team built for cold weather and all-terrain conditions against an unproven Broncos team led by a four-star general (Peyton Manning).
Yes. Unproven. Need proof?
In the past five years, the Broncos have a combined 41-39 regular-season record. They have made the postseason once.
The Ravens by comparison are 54-26—with two AFC division titles to boot—in the same stretch. Baltimore has made the playoffs in all five years. They have also sent a slew of players to the Pro Bowl.
But with Manning at the helm for the Broncos, things were supposed to be different this year. Right?
After all, the Broncos were 13-3 in the regular season and all but steamrolled an injury-plagued Ravens team a few weeks ago in Baltimore.
Surely, there was no way the Ravens could beat the Broncos, in Denver, with conditions designed to lift the home team to a routine victory.
Too bad. The Ravens rudely marched into Denver and showed the Broncos their monster block of combat medals.
While it is true that this game could have easily gone either way, the Ravens showed why they are one of the most consistently successful franchises in football.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco outmaneuvered and outgunned Manning, completing 18 out of 34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
Equally impressive as Flacco’s numbers was how Flacco scorched Denver’s secondary.
Flacco threw atom bombs. Flacco launched heat-seeking missiles. But when things mattered the most, Flacco also threw perfectly targeted touch passes into the smallest of windows.
Someone give Flacco a contract extension already!
Back to the game.
Ravens' running back Ray Rice very quietly had a huge day as well. He rushed for 131 yards and a TD on 30 tough carries.
Ravens' wide receiver Torrey Smith torched Champ Bailey for three huge catches for 98 yards and two TDs.
Jacoby Jones added two catches for 77 yards. Seventy yards came on a game-tying bomb late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 35.
Anquan Boldin had six clutch catches for 71 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
But Manning never looked comfortable in the pocket in the face of a resolute Ravens defense. Baltimore forced Manning into two interceptions and two fumbles on the day. Manning was also sacked three times.
Nightmares of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Dannell Ellerbe dancing in Manning’s head, Lewis once again showed why Ravens’ faithful will miss this iconic linebacker when he is gone.
As expected, Lewis epitomized a spiritual and physical gladiator: fighting through freezing, mile-high air beside his brothers to lead Baltimore to victory.
With black war paint angrily smeared on Lewis’ cold-battered face, his finger busted and bleeding, and his bionic-looking elbow crushing foes, Lewis led both teams with 10 tackles.
Suggs looked like a man ready to take the torch from Lewis. He seemed to be in the backfield every play, harassing Manning with a vengeance. By game’s end, Suggs had sacked Manning twice and forced him into a fumble.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe also played great in an under-the-radar role. He had nine tackles.
With one swift, "ice water in the veins" kick by rookie Ravens kicker Justin Tuck, the Ravens showed yet again why they are winners.
And the Broncos showed they still have ways to go before they can be considered a true NFL juggernaut.
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