On that unforgettable January night in Denver, the Ravens walked into Sports Authority Field at Mile High as heavy underdogs — a team that few outside their locker room believed had a realistic chance to defeat quarterback Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos — and left victorious four hours and 11 minutes later.
The Ravens survived frigid temperatures, a seven-point deficit in the game's final minute and a pair of overtime periods to beat the Broncos, 38-35, on their way to a second Super Bowl title.
Nearly eight months later, the Ravens will return to Denver on Thursday night, when they and the Broncos will kick off the NFL's regular season. As they prepare for the season opener, both teams are trying to repress their recollections from that night and focus on the task at hand.
Of course, the Ravens' memories are much fonder — Corey Graham's two interceptions, Joe Flacco's game-tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, Justin Tucker's long game-winning field goal — but coach John Harbaugh said Sunday there will be no time for reminiscing Thursday night.
“No chance of that. Won't happen,” he said. “I've got a pretty good feeling that the Broncos fans are going to make us remember. … We know the environment we're going into. It will be the same environment — or even tougher — than the one we faced in January. And we're excited about that.”
Meanwhile, Manning was short with Denver reporters who asked him if that AFC divisional round game gave the Broncos additional motivation.
“I don't feel like there is," Manning told them. "I feel like this is a new season for us. We're playing an excellent team. We're opening up the NFL season with a home game. So if people need that for an extra incentive that's fine, but I think there's plenty just with the schedule and the timing of when we're playing.”
The Pro Bowl quarterback carried that momentum into his conference call with Baltimore media, dismissing a question about moving on from the loss to the Ravens.
“I covered that just about all offseason,” Manning said. “I know I'm talking to you guys for the first time, but I guess you just have to probably check some old clips for quotes.”
Asked if he likes that the Broncos will get to play the Ravens in Week 1, Manning said, “The schedule is what it is,” before eventually saying, “We're playing an awesome team and starting off the NFL season, and I think both teams will be excited.”
Broncos coach John Fox had a similar answer but was a little more verbose.
“Last year is last year,” said Fox, whose late-game decision-making was scrutinized after the loss to the Ravens. “One of the exciting things about opening the season is you've got to open the day of a whole new season. Everybody is 0-0, and you start fresh. I guess you'd say that's water under the bridge.”
The Ravens' win on Jan. 12 was one of the most thrilling games in franchise history, and NFL Network ranked it as the most exciting game of the 2012 season.
In the final minute of regulation, with the Ravens trailing, 35-28, Flacco launched a throw down the sideline to Jones, who got behind the Broncos secondary for a 70-yard touchdown. Flacco acknowledged that he ran the play through his mind immediately after the game, but in typical Flacco fashion said he hadn't “really thought about it too many times” — even this week.
“You just think about what we can do to play a better game,” Flacco said. “If anything, I hope we don't put ourselves in that situation again so that we have to win like that.”
Manning said that a revamped Ravens defensive front that includes former teammate Elvis Dumervil will be “a tough challenge” for the Broncos offensive line. He also praised the secondary, name-dropping Graham, whose interception late in the first overtime set up Tucker's game-winning field goal, and fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb.
“I think their entire defense is good,” he said. “I know they've got some new players this year, but from what I've seen on film, they've replaced them with more good players.”
But neither he nor his coach seemed to be in the mood to talk publicly about exacting revenge.
And the Ravens — not even the biggest talker on the team — did not spend much time Sunday savoring the victory.
“Once the ball is kicked off — once the game has started — that last game is gone,” rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We'll see what happens in this one.”
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