NFL play-offs: Justin Tucker field goal gives Baltimore Ravens win over Denver Broncos
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 15/01/13 4:57pm
Rookie Justin Tucker kicked the Baltimore Ravens into the AFC Championship game with a 47-yard field-goal in the second period of overtime to win an epic play-off game against the Denver Broncos 38-35.
In what will go down as one of the best play-off games in NFL history, Denver took the lead four times and looked to be heading to victory when they led with just over 30 seconds left to play.
Joe Flacco launched a hail mary though that resulted in his third touchdown of the game as the Broncos somehow fluffed their coverage and sent the game into overtime.
It was hard to believe what a pulsating start we would get in a normally cagey opening to a play-off game, and it was a nightmare for Baltimore as they allowed Trindon Holliday to take his punt return 90 yards for the opening touchdown of the game.
Flacco answered immediately though with a 59-yard TD strike to Smith before Corey Graham caught a tipped pass from Manning as the Ravens quickly added 14 points in just 42 second to turn the game on its head.
Manning got his first real drive going next and found his old mate Brandon Stokley to close a breath-taking first quarter at 14-14, and he started the second in the same vein with a lovely pass to Knowshon Moreno.
Matt Prater fluffed a 52-yard field-goal attempt towards the end of the half, and Baltimore responded in style with Flacco finding Smith, who roasted Champ Bailey again, inside the final minute to put the icing on a thrilling half of action that ended 21-21.
Aptly in this game, the second half exploded into life with Holliday running the opening kick-off 104 yards for his second return TD of the game - becoming the first player with a punt and kick return TD in the same play-off game, with both runs also post-season records in length.
Peyton Manning threw all important interception
Still with plenty of time for a few more twists and turns, the Ravens stepped up on defence and forced a fumble turnover from Manning which Ray Rice then turned into a tying touchdown with a long run to the one and a short punch in.
Manning's response was typically impeccable, as he led an 88-yard drive to sap the strength out of the Ravens defence, which showed when nobody could get near Demaryius Thomas on the receiver screen as Manning netted his third touchdown pass of the game.
After Denver played it safe on third down, Baltimore got one last chance with just under 90 seconds left and no time outs, and there seemed few problems when Flacco launched a high hopeful bomb down the right sideline.
However, Denver's defensive backs made a complete mess of the coverage, especially Raheem Moore who totally misjudged the flight of the ball and it sailed into the arms of Jones who could scarcely believe his luck as he strolled into the end zone.
And so to overtime, and again the Ravens had their backs to the walls when Flacco produced a superb throw from his own end zone to relieve the pressure, but pressure was something Manning strangely couldn't handle.
Manning ill-advised throw back across the field was picked off by Graham, and that set-up Tucker who showed no rookie nerves to kick the Ravens into the AFC title game against the winner of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Texans.
It also means one more game for Ray Lewis, who could now just be sensing a fairytale end to his career with a return to the Super Bowl, given the hint of luck in Baltimore's comeback and their bravery shown in overtime.
Flacco finished with 331 yards and three TDs, with all of them big plays that owed at least something to poor coverage from Denver, while Rice was immense again with 131 yards and Baltimore's defence stepped up to limit Manning to three scores with those other two coming from special teams.