Every week, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week’s game. Today, he looks at -- what else? -- Joe Flacco’s game-tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones.
Late Monday night, more than 48 hours after the Ravens defeated the top-seeded Denver Broncos in double overtime, a group of Twitter-happy Ravens fans were back sitting on the edges of their seats. NFL Network was airing a replay of the 38-35 win, and when the Ravens, down by a touchdown, got the ball back with 1:09 left in regulation, a few of the fans I follow remarked that they were still nervous about how it would play out.
Sure, that’s a little silly knowing what we know now, but it speaks to the nature of an intense, unforgettable game that will go down not only as one of the greatest games in Ravens history, but football history as well.
“I don't know if I'm amazed but it was pretty incredible," quarterback Joe Flacco said Saturday night after leading one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history. "We overcame some things today and we fought to the very end. … When some of those things did happen, no one worried. We just said, 'All right, our turn.’"
The comeback drive, which will become even more legendary if the Ravens advance and win the Super Bowl, started at the Baltimore 23-yard line. At that point, they had a win probability of less than three percent.
It started slowly, with Flacco misfiring on a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta on first down and scrambling out of a jam for seven yards on second. The Ravens faced 3rd-and-3 with 42 seconds left.
After rushing back to the line of scrimmage, the Ravens had wide receiver Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin lined up on the left side of the field. Pitta was in the slot to his right. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was out wide on the right sideline. Running back Ray Rice remained in the backfield next to Flacco, who was in the shotgun. After the snap, the wide receivers ran vertical routes and Pitta ran an out route past the first-down marker.
The Broncos, meanwhile, had seven defensive backs on the field and went with a preventive zone defense on this play. They dropped three men into deep zone coverages and had four cornerbacks spread across the field to take away intermediate routes. The Broncos rushed just three players, with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil book-ending the Denver pass rush. Inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard had man coverage on Rice.
It wasn’t Miller or Dumervil who initially disrupted the play, though. Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie, respectively, kept those two at bay, as they had done for most of the evening. It was defensive end Robert Ayers, a former first-round pick who was lined up over center Matt Birk, who almost blew up the play. Ayers spun around Birk and right guard Marshal Yanda and squeezed inside the pocket.
Flacco, whose pocket awareness has been better over the past month, smartly stepped up into the pocket, swiveling his hips to avoid Ayers then rotating his torso back to uncork a prayer down the right sideline.
“I told myself that Joe might throw me the ball, so I better haul off the line," Jones said after the game.
Jones, who had a key third-down drop on Baltimore’s previous possession, streaked down the right side past Broncos cornerback Tony Carter, who passed him off to rookie safety Rahim Moore. Moore was responsible for that deep third of the field, and his primary responsibility was to not let anyone get behind him. He did, though, taking a bad angle to the ball and then tripping over his own feet as he tried to intercept the throw.
“I just misjudged it. I let it get over my head first of all and I didn't do what I do best which is watch the flight of the ball and I didn't do that right. I didn't capitalize and it hurt us. I'm speechless right now. I don't know even know what to say,” Moore said after the game, though the poor kid did find the words to pin the blame on himself.
The high-arcing pass, which seemed to hover in the thin air at Mile High, traveled 55 yards and landed in the hands of Jones, who could have called for a fair catch. He caught it and jogged into the end zone for a touchdown (and extra point) that sent the game into overtime and still had gleeful Ravens fans jumping up and down two nights later. Two time zones away, Moore is a goat. But Flacco and Jones are heroes here in Charm City.
"I've never seen anything like that," Smith said. "You play some games on Madden and you can't even do that."
Years from now, when the football world (outside of Denver) looks back on this upset, the enduring image will be Flacco finding Jones for his third touchdown of the game. Flacco made many big throws, including his completion to Pitta out of his own end zone in overtime, but none was bigger than that 70-yard touchdown to Jones, the one that kept the Ravens’ season alive and prolonged the career of Ray Lewis for another week.
“I’ve never been part of a game like that. It was incredible,” Pitta said, reminiscing, Monday afternoon. “We knew we had a good shot of winning that game. ... It was a great win and one I’ll remember for a long time.”
And Monday night, a bunch of diehards who were watching the game again shook their heads in agreement.