DENVER – Welcome to NFL immortality, Joe Flacco.
Somewhere up there in the all-time playoff archives near the “Hail Mary” by Staubach and the “Immaculate Reception” by Franco now lives the “Flacco Fling” by the Baltimore Ravens quarterback.
One big throw down the sideline, 70 make-or-break yards on a wing and a prayer – a high, arcing touchdown pass that soared through the icy air, flew over two defenders, landed in the hands of Jacoby Jones, saved the game for Baltimore and kept Ray Lewis’ 17-year career going at least one more week.
The record will show Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime Saturday to give the Ravens a 38-35 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The highlight? That would be Flacco’s game-tying touchdown to Jones on third-and-3 from the 30 with 31 seconds left in regulation and no timeouts.
“At that point,” Flacco said, “you have to start taking shots. You have to get a little lucky.”
And while Flacco gets to celebrate that throw, Manning will have a long offseason to think about a really bad one.
On Denver’s second possession of overtime, he stopped and threw across his body to the middle of the field and into the arms of Ravens cornerback Corey Graham at Denver’s 45. Baltimore (12-6) ran five plays and gained 16 yards before Tucker sailed his winning kick down the middle.
The Manning throw, intended for Brandon Stokley, was one quarterbacks from junior high to the pros are advised not to make. It’s a throw that unraveled all the good Manning has accomplished during this, his comeback season from neck surgery during which he threw for 37 touchdowns and led the Broncos (13-4) to top seeding in the AFC.
“Yeah, bad throw,” Manning said. “Probably the decision wasn’t great either. I thought I had an opening, and I didn’t get enough on it, and I was trying to make a play and certainly a throw I’d like to have back.”
Lewis, who led the Ravens with 17 tackles over this nearly 77-minute game in 13-degree weather, kneeled down to the ground and put his helmet on the rock-solid turf when it was over.
“I’ve never been a part of a game so crazy in my life,” he said.
After he thaws out, the Ravens (12-6), 91/2-point underdogs for this one, will get ready for a game at either New England or Houston, who meet today for the other spot in the AFC title game.
This game, the longest game since the Browns beat the New York Jets 23-20 in 1987, was an all-timer – up there with San Diego’s 41-38 double-overtime playoff victory over Miami in 1982 for drama. But Flacco’s throw might best be bookended next to one made by Roger Staubach, who famously coined the term “Hail Mary” after his game-winning toss to Drew Pearson beat Minnesota in the 1975 playoffs.
Staubach was near midfield when he threw his.
Flacco was standing around the 20 for his throw, buying time in the pocket when he 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.
“I started to step up in the pocket and I kept my eye on the safety’s depth at that point,” Flacco said. “Just felt I had a shot of maybe getting over him. At that point in the game, you don’t have any timeouts, when you’ve got to go a pretty decent length, you’ve got to start taking shots at some point. It happened to work out.”
Jones caught it and pranced into the end zone, blowing kisses toward the crowd.
“I was kissing to God. I was thanking the Lord,” Jones said. “I don’t disbelieve in myself. I’ve been believing in myself since I was born. Never no disbelief.”
Moore was on the verge of tears after the game.
“The loss, it was my fault,” Moore said. “I got a little too happy. It was pathetic. My fault. Next time I’ll make that play.”
The teams were tied at 14 after the first quarter, 21 at halftime, 28 after three quarters and at 35-35 after regulation.
The temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees, and Manning, wearing an orange-and-gray glove to get more feel in the icy weather, fell to 0-4 lifetime in playoff games 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.
Combined, the 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 (13-4), who came in on an 11-game winning streak and the odds-on favorite, at 3-1, to win the Super Bowl.