Denver, CO – While Peyton Manning's first season in Denver came to a swift and bitter end, Ray Lewis' illustrious career will continue on for at least one more week.
Justin Tucker knocked home a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime period to give Lewis' Baltimore Ravens a dramatic 38-35 victory over Manning's Broncos in an AFC Divisional Playoff from a frigid Sports Authority Field at Mile High, with the kick capping a remarkable comeback that propelled the Ravens into the conference title game for a second straight year.
Tucker's deciding field goal came four plays after Corey Graham intercepted Manning in Denver territory for the second time of the game, while the Ravens forced extra time on a thrilling 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones with just 31 seconds remaining in regulation.
"That game did the game of football proud," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh remarked afterward.
Flacco also hooked up with Torrey Smith for a pair of touchdowns earlier on while amassing 331 yards on 18-of-34 passing, with Ray Rice contributing 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to the improbable win.
"It was pretty incredible," said Flacco. "We overcame some things today and we fought until the very end. When some of those (negative) things happened, none of us blinked. We just sat over there on the sideline and said 'alright, our turn.'"
The fourth-seeded Ravens will visit the winner of Sunday's clash between New England and Houston in next weekend's AFC Championship. Baltimore advanced to the Divisional Round with last week's 24-9 home decision over Indianapolis, which came days after team leader Lewis announced he would be retiring at the end of his 17th NFL season.
Manning, who entered the matchup having bested the Ravens nine consecutive times -- including a pair of playoff bouts during his long and storied tenure with the Colts -- also threw for three touchdowns while accumulating 290 yards and completing 28-of-43 attempts along with the two picks.
Denver, which earned the AFC's No. 1 overall seed by winning its final 11 regular-season tests, suffered its first postseason loss at home since a 30-27 ousting by Jacksonville in a 1996 Divisional Playoff despite a spectacular performance by return man Trindon Holliday. The speedy specialist took back both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, establishing a new NFL postseason record for the longest return for each.
"Unless you're hoisting that Lombardi Trophy at the end, it's disappointing," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "We had plenty of opportunities in this game, we just came up short."
It didn't appear as if Baltimore would be able to break its long-running jinx against Manning after Dennis Pitta failed to come up with Flacco's fourth-down pass as the Ravens trailed 35-28 with 3:12 remaining in the final quarter. The team did get the ball back one last time in regulation, but faced a third down from its own 30-yard line with 41 seconds on the clock.
Flacco dropped back and lofted a long pass down the right sideline in Jones' direction, with Broncos' safety Rahim Moore misplaying the ball in the air as the Baltimore receiver snared it and raced untouched for a startling game- tying score.
"At that point in the game when you don't have any timeouts and you've got to go a pretty decent length, you've got to start taking shots at some point," said Flacco. "It happened to work out."
The Broncos elected to take a knee and opt for overtime after the subsequent kickoff despite still owning two timeouts, and neither team could generate much offense over its initial drive of the first extra session. Denver induced another punt on Baltimore's second series, and got a pair of first downs to advance to its own 38 upon regaining possession.
Manning then threw behind Brandon Stokley on the next snap, with Graham coming up with a diving interception at the Broncos' 45.
"In the clutch, guys want to get first downs and move the chains and put the team in position to win the game, so you can be a little more aggressive on defense and make a play," said Graham. "Someone had to do it and I was fortunate enough to be the one today."
An 11-yard run by Rice on the last play of the first overtime got the Ravens into Tucker's range, and the workhorse back would churn out three more yards before Harbaugh summoned the rookie kicker, who calmly split the uprights to extend the AFC North champions' season.
While points were hard to come by during the overtime portion, there was plenty of scoring from both sides early on during an action-packed first quarter.
After Baltimore fizzled out on the game's initial drive, Holliday began the early scoring barrage by fielding a punt on his own 10-yard line and shedding a tackle before breaking loose along the far sideline behind a block from reserve running back Lance Ball. The 90-yard touchdown came just 2:46 after the opening kickoff.
The Ravens would be the ones with the lead less than 2 1/2 minutes later, however, due to a pair of big plays on both the offensive and defensive sides.
A third-down defensive pass interference call on the Broncos' Tony Carter enabled Baltimore's next possession to continue, and Smith capitalized by blowing past the Denver secondary and hauling in Flacco's deep strike for a 59-yard score.
Just 42 seconds afterward, Manning's second pass of the day was deflected by Chykie Brown and into the arms of Graham, who side-stepped defenders on the way to a 39-yard return that gave Baltimore a 14-7 edge with 9:49 left in the first quarter.
Manning quickly shook off the turnover, completing 5-of-7 attempts in marching the Broncos 74 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing touch. His 21-yard connection to Jacob Tamme on 3rd-and-7 kept the chains moving, and the accomplished veteran teamed up with old confidant Stokley later on for a 15-yard touchdown that tied the score with 4:02 remaining in the opening period.
Manning was on point once again following a sequence of punts from both teams that gave Denver the ball deep in their own end. The All-Pro quarterback hit on all five of his throws on the 8-play, 86-yard jaunt, including a hookup with Eric Decker that the young receiver turned into a 32-yard gain to the Baltimore 14.
One play later, running back Knowshon Moreno beat linebacker coverage and corralled Manning's pinpoint pass in the end zone for a 21-14 Broncos' advantage midway through the second quarter.
Denver had a chance to tack on a few more points before the half would end, but Matt Prater's 52-yard field goal attempt 1:16 prior to intermission landed well short in the cold Colorado air.
That was more than enough time for Flacco, who found Anquan Boldin and Pitta for gains of 11 and 15 yards, respectively, before Smith made a nifty mid-air adjustment and cradled in a 32-yard bullet that knotted the contest with just 36 seconds showing on the second-quarter clock.
The game didn't stay that way for long, though. Holliday quickly found a seam down the middle on the opening kickoff of the second half and outraced Baltimore's coverage unit for a dazzling 104-yard score that put Denver back on top by a 28-21 count.
Denver's offense was stymied throughout the third quarter, however, and Manning committed another costly miscue when he fumbled upon being sacked by Pernell McPhee with under three minutes left in the frame, with Baltimore's Paul Kruger pouncing on the loose ball at the Broncos' 37.
Rice ripped off a 32-yard run two snaps later, then finished the short drive by powering in from a yard out to create a 28-28 deadlock entering the fourth quarter.
Manning would put the Broncos back in front following an exchange of punts, engineering a 10-play, 88-yard series that was kept alive when Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was flagged for holding on a third-down incompletion to Demaryius Thomas at the Baltimore 33.
Thomas held on to his next target, then weaved his way through traffic en route to a 17-yard touchdown that sent the Broncos ahead with 7:11 to go in regulation.
"We did a lot of good things tonight, we really did," Manning said. "It's a stout [Baltimore] defense with a lot of veteran playmakers and guys that have been in a lot of big games. We did a lot of good things and certainly there's plays that I'd like to have back, but that's just football."
The game was the sixth postseason tilt in NFL history decided in two overtimes and first since Carolina's 29-23 win over St. Louis in the 2003 NFC Divisional Round ... Holliday's 104-yard kick return surpassed the previous NFL postseason mark of 100 yards, set by Washington's Brian Mitchell against Tampa Bay in a 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff. His 90-yard punt-return score bettered former Raven Jermaine Lewis' 88-yard runback in Baltimore's loss at Pittsburgh during the 2000 AFC Divisional Round ... Moreno exited the contest in the third quarter with a knee injury, with rookie Ronnie Hillman compiling 83 rushing yards on 22 carries to lead Denver ... Smith's 59-yard TD catch was the second-longest scoring grab in Ravens' postseason history, eclipsed only by Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe's 96-yard reception from Trent Dilfer in the 2000 AFC Championship ... Flacco's 331 passing yards surpassed his own franchise postseason record in that category, which he set with 306 yards in last year's loss at New England in the AFC title game ... The temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees, the second-coldest of any home game in Broncos' history, and Manning is now 0-4 all-time in playoff games played in weather under 40 degrees. He has thrown nine interceptions in those outings.