DENVER -- It looked as if this would be one more magical moment for Peyton Manning, who was in the midst of an astonishing comeback season with the Broncos. Instead, it turned into one of the most memorable games in NFL history, even if Manning was the one who walked off the field with shoulders slumped after a stunning 38-35, two-overtime defeat Saturday night.
Just minutes after Manning put the finishing touches on what looked like the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco produced his own bit of breathtaking theater with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones that tied the score with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Then, after Manning threw an interception in his own territory with 51 seconds left in the first overtime, the Ravens finished off the unlikely comeback with rookie Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second OT. That put Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year.
They'll face either the Patriots -- who beat the Ravens in last year's conference title game -- or the Texans. New England hosts Houston Sunday.
"This was a big game where we all rose up and took care of each other," said Flacco, the first quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. "When that happens, everybody plays well."
Latest NFL stories
Flacco saved his best for last in regulation. On third-and-3 from the Ravens' 30 and the clock running down in regulation, Flacco found Jones down the right sideline. He had gotten behind defensive backs Tony Carter and Rahim Moore and caught Flacco's pass at the 20 before racing into the end zone.
"I always believed in myself," Jones said. "When I saw that the cornerback [Carter] was pressing me and I got past him, I'm like, 'Whoa, I think Joe's going to throw it.' I looked back, and there was the ball. I just caught it and took it in. It was a great moment for our team."
And that wasn't the only big play in this game. Trindon Holliday contributed a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 104-yard kickoff return for a TD for the Broncos and Corey Graham had a 39-yard interception for a touchdown for the Ravens.
Both the punt return (just 2:46 into the game) and the touchdown return by the 5-5 Holliday were the longest in NFL playoff history, and he became the first player to score on a punt return and kickoff return in the same playoff game. He gained 248 yards on returns, the most in a postseason game.
Manning played well for most of the game and looked terrific in conducting an 88-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter that resulted in a 17-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas and a 35-28 Broncos lead. But Manning stumbled in overtime, throwing the interception by Graham at the Denver 45 that the Ravens converted into the winning field goal.
For another star, it marked the continuation of an extraordinary career. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced before the playoffs that he will retire after the postseason, will play at least one more game.
The Ravens tied the score at 7-7 on Flacco's perfect pass to Torrey Smith for a 59-yard TD. The Ravens took a 14-7 lead moments later, as Manning's pass caromed off Eric Decker and into the waiting arms of Graham, who ran it back 39 yards for the score.
But Denver tied it on its next possession as Manning threw a beautiful 15-yard pass to Brandon Stokley in the right corner of the end zone.
The Broncos took a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter as Manning found Knowshon Moreno on a 14-yard touchdown pass. It was 21-21 at the half after Flacco's 32-yard TD pass to Smith with 36 seconds left in the half.
Holliday put his name in the record books again on the first play of the third quarter, taking the kickoff four yards deep in his end zone and racing up the left side for a 104-yard touchdown.
But Baltimore wouldn't back down. Ray Rice's 1-yard TD run tied it at 28 in the third quarter, setting up a thrilling fourth quarter -- not to mention two overtimes.
You also may be interested in:
More coverageJustin Pugh wants Giants' offensive line to get tough
Justin Pugh spent part of his offseason working with Jay Glazer and his MMA athletesReport: Wide receiver James Jones will sign one-year contract with Giants
Veteran wide receiver James Jones is visiting the Giants on Friday and, according to oneGlauber: Mara has expectations for Giants