DENVER – No matter where his season or his career might end, Joe Flacco will always have The Fling.
And Peyton Manning will always have to live with that throw he made, too.
Flacco’s desperation 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation saved the game for Baltimore in regulation and Manning’s throw across his body in overtime all but lost it for Denver.
On a frostbitten day in the frozen tundra known as Denver, the Ravens got a 47-yard field goal from Justin Tucker 1:42 into the second overtime Saturday to pull off a 38-35 upset over Manning and the Broncos, extending linebacker Ray Lewis’ career by at least one game.
Lewis, who led the Ravens with 17 tackles over this nearly 77-minute game, kneeled down to the ground and put his helmet on the rock-solid turf when it was over.
After he thaws out, the Ravens (12-6), 9½-point underdogs for this one, will get ready for a game at either New England or Houston, who meet Sunday for the other spot in the AFC title game.
“Our team is so confident and everything went against us,” Lewis said, “but we found a way to come here together and we’re leaving together. It’s just awesome.”
This game, the longest since the Browns beat Cleveland 23-20 in 1987, was an all-timer – up there with San Diego’s 41-38 double-overtime victory over Miami for drama. But Flacco’s throw might best be bookended next to one made by Roger Staubuch, who famously coined the term “Hail Mary” after his game-winning toss to Drew Pearson beat Minnesota in the 1975 playoffs.
How else to describe the Flacco throw?
On third-and-3 from his 30 with 41 seconds and no timeouts left, Flacco bought time in the pocket and saw Jones sprinting down the right sideline into double coverage. Defensive back Tony Carter slowed up and let Jones streak by him. Instead of staying step for step with Jones, safety Rahim Moore tried to leap and knock down the ball. Flacco, who throws the high, deep ball as well as anyone, got it over Moore’s head and into Jones’ hands.
Jones caught it and pranced into the end zone, blowing kisses to the crowd.
The Broncos chose to kneel on the ball to end regulation.
The teams punted three times to start overtime, setting up Denver on its 7-yard line. Manning was moving the Broncos along slowly and steadily. But on second-and-6 from the 38, he rolled to his right, stopped and threw across the field to Brandon Stokley. Graham stepped in front of the receiver for the interception, bookending the pick he made in the first quarter, which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
The temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees, and Manning fell to 0-4 lifetime when the temperature is 40 or less. He finished 28 for 43 for 290 yards and accounted for all three Denver turnovers – the two picks and a lost fumble that set up the touchdown that tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter.
Those mistakes nullified a record-setting day for returner Trindon Holliday, who returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 104 yards for another score. Both were playoff records for longest returns, as was the 248 total return yards he had.
All for naught.
This was, more or less, the unthinkable for the Broncos, who came in on an 11-game winning streak and the odds-on favorite, at 3-1, to win the Super Bowl, in Manning’s hometown of New Orleans, no less.
Instead, this loss goes down with the most devastating in Denver history. Right there with the 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 4, 1997 – another year when Denver looked like Super Bowl material.
But it’s Baltimore and Lewis who are in the AFC title game for the second straight year.