5 Observations from the Ravens' Playoff Win over the Broncos
Down by a touchdown, at their own 30-yard line with just over 30 seconds left in regulation and zero timeouts remaining, any hope for the Ravens continuing their playoff run seemed all but gone.
It seemed impossible. How could Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense drive that distance in such little time? I for one figured the game was over—but it was just beginning.
On a 3rd-and-3, Flacco bought time in the pocket by stepping up and hurling a beautifully thrown bomb over two Denver defenders to Jacoby Jones down the right sideline for a game-tying touchdown.
After the Broncos elected to kneel out the remaining seconds of regulation, the game between the Ravens and Broncos went into overtime. One quarter of overtime would not be enough Saturday as it took two extra periods for the game to be decided.
After Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass at the Baltimore 45-yard line, Ray Rice carried the ball four times, setting up a 47-yard game-winning field goal by rookie kicker Justin Tucker.
Tucker nailed the long field goal, giving Baltimore an improbable 38-35 (2OT) victory over Denver, booking a ticket in next week’s AFC Championship Game against either the New England Patriots or Houston Texans.
Here are five observations from Baltimore’s win over Denver.
1. Joe Flacco May Not Be Elite, but He Is Pretty Darn Close
It doesn’t matter what your opinions of the Baltimore quarterback are, but everyone has to finally admit—Joe Flacco is a very good NFL quarterback.
He may not be elite, and he may never put up elite-like numbers, but Flacco is without a doubt a winner. For the second straight year, Flacco outplayed a top NFL quarterback in the playoffs.
Last season, Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game—a game the Ravens should have won. In that game, Flacco threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 95.4. Brady threw for 239 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 57.5.
Had that game turned out differently, Flacco may not have received the criticism he suffered this year.
Despite his inconsistencies this season, Flacco steps up when his team needs him—and that’s what he did Saturday.
Playing against Peyton Manning—who is maybe the greatest quarterback in NFL history—Flacco, the man his critics said didn’t stand a chance against Manning or his defense, matched pass for pass with Manning in leading the Ravens to an improbable victory.
Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns (zero interceptions) for a rating of 116.2. Manning threw for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, including the game-deciding pick in overtime.
While at times Flacco’s play can be utterly head-scratching, there is no denying he can compete with the biggest names in the game and win. With one more win against an elite quarterback, Flacco’s confidence will be sky high next week.
2. What Terrell Suggs Did Saturday Was Nothing Short of Amazing
After tearing his Achilles in early May, Terrell Suggs vowed he would return at some point this season. Not many people believed the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year could return from an injury that usually takes a full year to recover from.
However, Suggs did what many considered to be a medical miracle, returning to the football field just five months after surgery. Suggs also tore his biceps in early December, yet sat out only one game.
Playing with basically one good arm and one fully healthy leg, Suggs played his best game of his season Saturday, recording 10 tackles, two sacks and one pass deflection.
The Baltimore linebacker was all over the field, making people forget that he is playing with two hampering injuries.
When you start to really think about it, the fact that Suggs played at such a high level with the injuries he has speaks to competitiveness and shear will power of Suggs.
3. John Harbaugh’s Decision to Drop His Pride May Have Saved Season
For the entire regular season, it was not a secret that Bryant McKinnie was in the doghouse of head coach John Harbaugh.
After starting every game at left tackle a year ago, McKinnie was regulated to the bench this season as Baltimore opted to insert Kelechi Osemele at right tackle and moved Michael Oher from right tackle to left tackle.
When McKinnie entered training camp this season after a troubling offseason where he faced financial issues and continued weight problems, McKinnie instantly lost favor with Harbaugh.
As a result, the veteran offensive lineman rarely saw the field in the regular season.
However an injury to starting lineman Jah Reid, prompted Harbaugh to start McKinnie at left tackle last week against the Colts. Harbaugh could have started veteran Bobbie Williams, but elected to put aside his pride in starting McKinnie.
After Baltimore’s newly constructed offensive line performed well in last week’s victory over Indianapolis, Harbaugh sent the same group onto the field in Denver.
What transpired was a great performance by the Baltimore maulers up front in protecting Flacco and keeping the vaunted Denver pass rush at bay. Flacco was sacked just one time and was hit just one other time.
This game would not have ended the way it did if Harbaugh does not start McKinnie.
4. Billy Cundiff Who?
When Justin Tucker jogged onto the field to attempt the game-winning field goal Saturday, I am sure Ravens fans began to have flashbacks of last year’s AFC Championship Game where Billy Cundiff missed that field goal.
Fans didn’t have to hold their collective breath long as Tucker easily nailed the 47-yarder, sending his team home victorious.
When Baltimore made the decision to cut Cundiff and go with the rookie Tucker as its kicker this season, the coaching staff felt it had a kicker who was capable of making the big kick when it mattered.
Boy, do they.
Tucker looked nothing like a rookie, lining up for that kick with confidence brimming from his eyes. What I like about Tucker is that he does not personify that kicker identity. He looks like just one of the guys out there, and it is clear he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaching staff.
If it comes down to it next week, my bet is Tucker wants to have the game come down to his strong right leg.
5. Lewis’ Last Run Has Just Begun
It has been well publicized that the Baltimore Ravens want to send Ray Lewis out a winner.
The passion and love the Ravens have for their leader is beyond comprehensible. You just start to get the feeling that these Ravens will do anything for Lewis.
Baltimore entered Denver as a huge underdog to Manning and the Broncos, but somehow left a winner in one of the craziest games you will ever watch.
I am not here to proclaim Baltimore as a “Team of Destiny” because I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in the best team winning—and right now, I think Baltimore is the best team.
The Ravens may not look like the best team on paper, but Lewis brings that special ability that he can inspire a team to believe they are capable of accomplishing something great.
That is where Baltimore is—the Ravens think they are capable of getting to the Super Bowl and even winning it for Lewis. And that, everybody, is what makes this team special.