The first game on the playoff schedule had the Baltimore Ravens flying out to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos. The Broncos were coming off a first round bye week and the Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the wildcard round by a score of 24-9. The Broncos won the toss and deferred to the second half.
After moving the ball from their own 20-yard line to the to the 38, running back Ray Rice was stopped short of the first down on third and two. Punter Sam Koch got off a nice 52-yard punt that was fielded by return man Trindon Holliday at the the Bronco ten. He ran straight up the middle and cut up the right sideline. Koch gave his best effort to stop him short of the end zone, but Holliday was too quick. Just like that, it was 6-0. Kicker Matt Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 12:14 to go in the first quarter.
After a muffed kickoff return by Jacoby Jones, the Ravens were starting at their own six-yard line. A pass interference penalty on the Broncos gave them a first down at the 33. On second and two from the 41, quarterback Joe Flacco went deep for wide receiver Torrey Smith who got behind the secondary. Smith caught the ball in stride and made it to the end zone for a Raven touchdown. Kicker Justin Tucker made the point after and the score was quickly knotted at seven with 10:31 to go in the first quarter.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 25 and on third and six from the 29, quarterback Peyton Manning looked for wide receiver Eric Decker. The ball was knocked up into the air and promptly picked off by cornerback Corey Graham at the 39. He returned it all the way for another Raven touchdown. Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 14-7 with 9:49 to go in the first quarter.
The Broncos started out at their 26 and completions to tight end Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen got them to midfield. A short run by running back Knowshon Moreno and a 13-yard pass to Decker got them down to the Raven 36. A short pass to running back Ronnie Hillman, an illegal hands to the face penalty on the Ravens and an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas made it first down at the 17. On third and eight from the 15, Manning looked for his old friend wide receiver Brandon Stokley in the end zone. Stokley did a good job of keeping his knee in bounds for a Bronco touchdown. Prater made the point after and the score was now tied at 14 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.
The teams traded punts on the next few possessions and the Broncos took over at their 14. Completions to Thomas and Moreno had the Broncos rolling again. A pass up the right side to Decker netted 32 yards and they found themselves in the red zone. From the 14, Manning tossed a pass to the right side for Moreno who caught it for yet another Bronco touchdown. Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 21-14 with 7:26 to go in the first half.
A missed field goal by Prater after a 14 play, 47-yard drive gave the Ravens the ball at their 42 with 1:16 remaining in the first half. Flacco found wide receiver Anquan Boldin for 11 yards and and tight end Dennis Pitta for 15 more. On first down from the Bronco 32, Flacco looked to his right and put one up for Smith who got behind cornerback Champ Bailey again. Smith made a nice leaping catch for a Raven touchdown. Tucker made the extra point and the first half ended with the score tied at 21.
At halftime, it was obvious nobody told Tucker not to kick the ball to Holliday. He fielded the ball four yards deep in the end zone and ran it out. The Ravens managed to get a couple of hands on him, but he slithered away and ran the kick back for a touchdown. Prater made the point after and the Broncos now led 28-21 with 14:47 to go in the third quarter.
With the help of three penalties by the Broncos and a 20-yard run by running back Ray Rice, the Ravens moved into Bronco territory. However, on first down from the 43, Flacco fumbled the snap and the ball was recovered by linebacker Keith Brooking at the 43. Despite the good field position, the Broncos could do nothing with the ball and punted. The Ravens followed suit and punted it right back to the Broncos. They took over at their 25 and on the strength of two completions to Tamme, moved the ball to the 46. On second and 13 from the 43, Manning found Tamme again for a gain of 12 down to the Raven 45. On third and one, the Broncos were flagged for holding. That put them in a third and long situation back at their 46. On third down, defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked Manning and the ball came loose. It was recovered by linebacker Paul Kruger at the Bronco 37.
It was time for the Ray Rice show to begin. Five straight carries by Rice got the Ravens into the end zone and they were now down 28-27. Tucker made the point after and the Ravens tied the score at 28 with 20 seconds to go in the third quarter. Both teams punted on their next possessions. With 12 minutes to go in the game, the Broncos started their next drive at their 12. Filling in for the injured Moreno, Hillman became the main running back. An 11-yard pass to Hillman, a four-yard run and a seven-yard pass to Dreessen got them a first down at the 34. Another 11-yard completion and a personal foul on the Ravens got them a first down at the Raven 40. A defensive holding on third and three netted another first down at the 28. From the 28, Hillman ran up the left side for three yards and Decker caught another pass for eight more. On first down from the 17, Manning threw a short pass to Thomas who caught it and weaved his way through several Raven defenders for a Bronco touchdown. Prater made the point after and the Broncos now led 35-28 with 7:11 to go in the game.
The Ravens got the ball back and knew they had to score on this drive to hopefully force overtime. They started at their 25 and on third and seven from the 28, Boldin made a nice grab for a gain of 19. Another pass to Boldin went for 17 yards and a first down at the Bronco 36. A false start penalty moved them back five yards and made it first and 15 from the 41. Three straight carries by Rice netted ten yards and the Ravens now had a fourth and five from the 31. Flacco looked for Pitta on fourth down and the pass was incomplete. The Broncos took over with 3:12 to go in the game. The Ravens had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to stop the clock. Hillman ran four times and moved the ball from the 31 to the 47. On third and seven, he was stuffed for a loss and the Broncos were forced to punt with 1:15 to go. The ball was fair caught at the 23 and the Ravens needed a miracle. Flacco looked for Pitta again on first down and it was incomplete. He scrambled up the middle for seven yards on second down and with 31 seconds to go, Flacco put one up the right side for Jones who had gotten behind the secondary. Jones caught it for a stunning 70-yard touchdown. The rowdy Denver crowd stood in stunned silence at what they had just witnessed. Tucker made the point after and the game was now tied at 35. Manning took a knee to end regulation and the game went to overtime.
The Ravens won the toss and got the ball at their 20. They got down to the Bronco 44 and on third and two, Flacco was sacked for a loss of nine by linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil. A whole lot of punting went on until the 3:47 mark. On the last punt by the Ravens, Koch hit a nice 52-yarder that was fielded by Holliday at the 14. Cornerback Jimmy Smith brought him down for a loss of seven. Starting at their seven, the Broncos went to work. A short pass to Hillman, an 11-yard pass to Decker and a couple of runs by Hillman and fullback Jacob Hester netted a first down at the 34. On second and six from the 38, Manning threw a pass intended for Stokley and it was picked off by Graham. He was brought down at the Bronco 45.
On second and ten from the 45, Rice ran up the middle for a gain of 11. That brought the first overtime to a close. Three more carries by Rice got five yards and on fourth down from the 29, Tucker trotted onto the field for the game-winning kick. There was no timeout called by the Broncos and his kick was good. That gave the Ravens a 38-35 win and they will face the winner of the Texans-Patriots game in the AFC Championship.
For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 18 of 34 for 331 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a lost fumble. Torrey Smith led all receivers in receptions with three and receiving yards with 98 and two touchdowns. On the ground, Ray Rice grinded out 131 yards on 30 carries and one touchdown. As a team, the Ravens rushed for 155 yards on 39 carries. Defensively, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs tied for the team lead in solo tackles with ten apiece. Suggs also had two sacks, one tackle for a loss and one pass defensed.
For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 28 of 43 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two very costly interceptions. One was returned for a score and the other set up the game winning field goal. Eric Decker and Joel Dreessen tied for the lead in receptions with six and Decker had the most receiving yards with 84. Ronnie Hillman led the Broncos in rushing yards with 83 yards on 22 carries. As a team, the Broncos rushed for 125 yards on 41 carries. Defensively, linebackers Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven. Miller also had a half sack. I will be back tomorrow morning with a recap of the Packers-49ers game.