Divisional round: Ravens, 49ers advance

Divisional round: Ravens, 49ers advance
January 12, 2013, 7:45 pm
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DENVER -- No matter where his season or his career might end, Joe Flacco will always have The Fling.

And Peyton Manning will always have to live with that throw he made, too.

Flacco's desperation 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation saved the game for Baltimore in regulation and Manning's throw across his body in overtime all but lost it for Denver.

On a frostbitten day on the frozen tundra known as Denver, the Ravens got a 47-yard field goal from Justin Tucker 1:42 into the second overtime Saturday to pull off a 38-35 upset over Manning and the Broncos, extending linebacker Ray Lewis' career by at least one game.

"Our team is so confident and everything went against us," Lewis said, "but we found a way to come here together and we're leaving together. It's just awesome."

Lewis, who led the Ravens with 17 tackles over this nearly 77-minute game, kneeled down to the ground and put his helmet on the rock-solid turf when it was over.

After Lewis thaws out, the Ravens (12-6), 9-point underdogs for this one, will get ready for a game at either New England or Houston, who meet Sunday for the other spot in the AFC title game.

This game, the longest 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 victory over Miami 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.

How to describe the Flacco Fling?

On third-and-3 from his 30 with 41 seconds and no timeouts left, Flacco bought time in the pocket and 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.

"At that point, you have to start taking shots," Flacco said. "You have to get a little lucky. Had to take a shot and everyone came through."

Jones caught it and pranced into the end zone, blowing kisses to the crowd.

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 punted three times to start overtime, setting up Denver on its 7-yard line. Manning was moving the Broncos along slowly and steadily. But on second-and-6 from the 38, he rolled to his right, stopped and threw across the field to Brandon Stokley. Graham stepped in front of the receiver for the interception, bookending the pick he made in the first quarter, which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

The temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees, and Manning fell to 0-4 lifetime 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.

The last throw was the worst one, though.

"Not a good decision," Manning said. "Not a great throw, either."

Those 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, in Manning's hometown of New Orleans, no less.

Instead, this loss goes down with the most devastating in Denver history. Right there with the 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 4, 1997 -- another year when Denver looked very much like Super Bowl material.

But it's Baltimore and Lewis who are in the AFC title game for the second straight year.

Last year, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal against New England that would have tied that game at the end of regulation.

This year, the Ravens had Tucker, and though the temperature was cold and the ball was hard, coach John Harbaugh showed zero desire to get the ball closer after Ray Rice ran for 11 yards to the Denver 34 near the end of the first overtime.

Tucker was making them from 67 yards in pre-game warmups.

He finished the day 1 for 1. Broncos kicker Matt Prater missed his only try, from 52 yards, when he hit the turf, then the ball, on an attempt at the end of the first half. Broncos coach John Fox will be second-guessed about the decision to go for the long kick, especially considering the way Flacco responded: Throwing and completing three straight passes after the miss for a 58-yard touchdown drive that tied the game at 21 going into halftime.

The touchdown was a 32-yard connection to Torrey Smith, marking the second time Smith beat Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Smith also got behind the 12-time Pro Bowler for a 59-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Yes, these were uncharacteristic plays for the Broncos, who routed Baltimore on its home field, 34-17, less than a month ago.

But on this day, the coldest playoff game in Broncos history, these were different teams playing for different stakes.

Flacco finished with 331 yards and three touchdowns. Rice had 131 yards and a score. With Lewis manning the middle of the field, the Broncos offense didn't look like the well-oiled machine it had over 11 straight wins, dating to a 35-24 comeback win over San Diego in October.

The Ravens, meanwhile, looked more like the team that began the season 9-2 instead of the one that finished it losing four of their last five.

"That football game," Harbaugh said, "did football proud."

   
49ers 38, Packers 24

SAN FRANCISCO -- Colin Kaepernick set an NFL playoff record by a quarterback with 163 yards rushing to go with four total touchdowns, and the San Francisco 49ers held a 38-24 lead over the Green Bay Packers early in the fourth quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night.

Showing off his strong arm and fleet footwork, Kaepernick shook off a shaky start to his postseason debut and turned in a performance unlike any other. He threw for 232 yards and two more scores to put Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on the brink of elimination.

Michael Vick's 119 yards rushing in Atlanta's 47-17 win over St. Louis in 2005 had been the most by a quarterback in a playoff game.

Kaepernick, the second-year pro out of Nevada who supplanted Alex Smith at quarterback in a much-debated move by coach Jim Harbaugh, shook off an interception that Sam Shields ran back 52 yards for a touchdown on San Francisco's first possession to twice rally the 49ers from a TD behind.

Kaepernick's 56-yard TD run on a read-option keeper in the third quarter -- the longest by a quarterback in franchise history -- gave the 49ers a 31-24 lead. He stopped in the end zone and flexed his right arm, smiling all the way back to the sideline.

The scores mark the fourth time in NFL history a player had two touchdowns rushing and two touchdowns passing in a postseason game.

Kaepernick also tossed TD passes of 20 and 12 yards to Michael Crabtree and ran untouched for a 20-yard score. He led another drive that David Akers finished with a 36-yard field goal to put the 49ers ahead 24-21 as the first half ended.

Frank Gore also ran for a 2-yard touchdown 3 seconds into the fourth quarter to extend San Francisco's lead to 38-24.

Rodgers rallied the Packers after tossing his own interception. The former Cal star threw a 20-yard scoring strike to James Jones, and DaJuan Harris ran for an 18-yard touchdown.

The amped-up crowd at Candlestick Park endured a flurry of emotions at the start.

With San Francisco looking to return to the NFC title game for the second straight season, Kaepernick's costly error quieted the 49ers faithful. Shields stepped in front of Kaepernick's pass, shook the quarterback to the ground and scampered down the sideline to give the Packers a quick 7-0 lead.

Kaepernick unclipped his jaw strap and dropped his head to the sideline while Shields waved his hands at the crowd. Rodgers pumped his fist on the Packers sideline.

Kaepernick converted two third downs to bring the 49ers back on their next drive. He bought time and scurried out of the pocket to find running back Gore for a 45-yard gain, then darted 20 yards up the middle on third-and-8 for the tying score.

When Rodgers and the Packers offense finally took the field, they didn't do much the first time out. San Francisco stopped Rodgers, who had a contingent of friends and family make the 4-hour trek from his hometown of Chico, on a three-and-out that whipped the crowd back into a frenzy on a crisp night along the bay.

Rodgers found his groove and floated a 44-yard pass that Jones leaped to snatch over two defenders along the sideline. Then Harris broke through the middle to put the Packers up 14-7 on the next play.

Green Bay made its share of mistakes, too.

Jeremy Ross muffed a punt and Chris Spillman recovered at the Packers' 9. Three plays later, Kaepernick found Crabtree running free over the middle for a tying 12-yard touchdown pass.

San Francisco's stout defense often took a linebacker off the field to drop an extra defensive back in coverage against Rodgers, just as the 49ers did in a 30-22 win in the season opener at Lambeau Field. The strategy flustered Rodgers enough that he overthrew Jordy Nelson on a deep pass that Tarrell Brown intercepted. Rodgers had gone 184 passes without an interception.

Kaepernick broke another 15-yard run on third down, but officials whistled him for a 15-yard taunting penalty for tossing the ball in the direction of Green Bay defenders. He brushed that off to hit Crabtree on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

On its next series, Green Bay took advantage of a 15-yard personal foul penalty Dashon Goldson was given for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Harris. Rodgers then threaded a tying 20-yard TD to Jones between three defenders in the end zone with 2:33 remaining. Kaepernick responded and led the 49ers downfield to give the struggling Akers, who had to beat out Billy Cundiff to keep his job, a chance.

Rodgers led the Packers on a nine-play 76-yard drive midway through the third quarter. Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard field to tie the game at 24 in the third quarter.

©2013 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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