DENVER -- Last January, Sports Authority Field at Mile High erupted as wide receiver
Saturday, the stadium fell into a stunned silence as Ravens kicker Justin Tucker converted a 47-yard field goal in double overtime for a 38-35 win that sent the Ravens to the AFC title game and ended the Broncos’ season.
As thrilling as the 2012 Wild Card win was, Saturday’s loss was equally deflating.
“There is no shock,” Head Coach John Fox said. “You get to playoff season and everybody is good. My hat is off to (Ravens Head Coach) John Harbaugh and his staff. His players played well enough to win a tough game on the road. This is a tough place to play.”
Denver looked to have a win in hand late in regulation.
With the Broncos ahead by seven, the Ravens got the ball at their 23-yard line, needing to drive 77 yards in 1:09 with no timeouts.
After two quick plays, the team was at its own 30-yard line with 41 seconds left and the clock ticking.
But then, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wound up and found receiver Jacoby Jones behind the Denver secondary for a 70-yard touchdown that sent the game to overtime and took the air out of the crowd that had been raucous all game.
"We just misplayed the ball," Fox said. "They made the play instead."
All of a sudden, momentum was on the side of the visitors.
“As a defense, we've got to find a way to seal the game,” cornerback
With the Broncos looking to put together a drive late in the first overtime period, quarterback
Needing just three points to advance, the Ravens used four runs by Ray Rice to move into field goal range. Tucker sent his kick through the uprights and speechless Broncos fans home.
“It happens,” said Thomas, the man who sent the Denver crowd into a frenzy in last year’s playoffs. “I thought it was over with but they made a great play and took it to overtime. They played great in overtime and got the win.”
The two heavyweight teams traded blows all afternoon, starting with
Next came a 59-yard touchdown from Flacco to wide receiver Torrey Smith, which tied the game at 7-7. A tipped Manning pass was intercepted by Graham and returned for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, and Baltimore had its first lead.
But the quick swing from up 7-0 to down 14-7 didn't rattle Denver.
Manning and the offense answered with an 11-play drive, methodically moving 74 yards down the field. The drive was capped by a 14-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver
After three punts, the Broncos got the ball again and moved back ahead thanks to another 14-yard touchdown pass by Manning -- this one caught by running back
That capped off an eight-play, 86-yard drive and gave the Broncos a 21-14 lead.
But Baltimore wasn't finished, either. A 32-yard touchdown strike from Flacco to Smith tied the game at 21 points apiece at halftime.
"We had opportunities all game long to finish this thing out," Stokley said. "We just didn’t get the job done. That’s really the bottom line. You’ve got to give them credit. They made a few more plays than we did.”
Each team scored two touchdowns in the second half, and once again the first score belonged to Holliday, who returned the third-quarter kickoff a postseason-record 104 yards to the house, becoming the only player in NFL history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in a playoff game.
"We just came out and Coach told us to set the tempo when we come out for the second half," Holliday said. "When we got the kickoff, I just ran it back for a touchdown.”
The Ravens answered with a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown to tie it at 28. A 17-yard Thomas touchdown gave Denver its final lead before Jones' 70-yard score sent the game to overtime at 35-35.
The Broncos had two overtime possessions, the second of which ended with Manning's interception to give Baltimore a third, and final, possession. Tucker’s double-overtime, walk-off kick, the Broncos’ 11-game win streak that propelled the team to the AFC’s top seed was suddenly snapped.
Within minutes, the team went from hosting the AFC title game to packing its bags for the final time this season.
Last season’s home playoff game ended in euphoria. This year’s ended in despair.
“Crazy stuff can happen in this league,” running back