Carroll County Times

Commentary: Lucky to witness remarkable game

Those of us lucky enough to witness Saturday night's thrilling Baltimore Ravens win won't soon forget what we saw.

The Ravens have never played a longer or more exciting game, and to pull off the win in such an intimidating atmosphere was doubly impressive.

Before we look ahead to Sunday's AFC Championship Game, let's look back to last month. After the Ravens suffered a shocking loss to the Washington Redskins, two franchises' fates changed.

Baltimore knocked Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III out of the game, and ignited a controversy over his right knee that will dominate sports talk there all year long.

Meanwhile, a frustrated Ravens coach John Harbaugh fumed all the way back home and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron the next day.

His replacement, Jim Caldwell saw his offense sputter four weeks ago against the Denver Broncos in Baltimore, and the idea that the Ravens could actually beat the Broncos in Denver was a joke.

After Saturday's game, Harbaugh made a point of saying how well Caldwell had called plays. The confidence Joe Flacco showed would probably not have been evident if Cameron remained.

Besides Harbaugh's daring move, which would have occurred after the season, anyway, his faith in rookie kicker Justin Tucker was justified, too.

Tucker's game-winner was hardly the most crucial play, but keeping him rather than Billy Cundiff after last year's AFC Championship game now amounts to a no-brainer. It wasn't then.

The Ravens' third AFC Championship Game in Harbaugh's five seasons should elevate him to the top tier of NFL coaches, whether the Ravens win next Sunday against New England or not.

Flacco's detractors are now silenced, too. Just as Ray Rice's fourth-and 29 run in San Diego saved him from lots of criticism, it seemed that an ill-advised scramble on Saturday ate up valuable time. Instead of helping cost Baltimore the game, it set up the play of Flacco's career.

The heave may now take its place alongside other remarkable plays in NFL history and it earned Flacco millions of dollars.

Even if Flacco doesn't lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl, it's unthinkable that he'll not be Baltimore's quarterback for years to come.

These may be the salad days for area sports fans. Not only are the Ravens one of the most consistently excellent teams, the Orioles surprised and delighted last season. Hopes for this season are high, too.

Harbaugh understood the magnitude of Saturday's game. Afterward, he said that while watching in the cold, he knew he was coaching in one of the greatest games ever.

There'll be plenty of time for that kind of talk after the season ends.

It's funny, but a lot of the Ravens biggest wins weren't necessarily the most exciting. The Super Bowl win over the New York Giants was methodical and hardly exciting. The win over Oakland that got them to the Super Bowl wasn't big on drama, either.

Some of the most memorable wins in team history have been regular season wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite the retiring Ray Lewis using understatement for once, it wasn't one of the most exciting games. It was the most exciting game in team history.

How often does a team win after allowing punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same game?

Lewis had lost to Peyton Manning's teams nine straight times, and there was no reason to think the streak wouldn't reach 10.

A season that seemed likely to be remembered for Lewis' retirement and Flacco's maddeningly inconsistent play moves along. Of course, anything short of a Super Bowl win will disappoint the diehards.

Even if there's no parade this year, Lewis and Flacco combined on a frozen afternoon for a game that will talked about for decades, and I was lucky enough to see it.