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Commentary: A big moment for Flacco

DENVER - It looked as if it was going to end the way it always does for the Baltimore Ravens. Big loss. Big disappointment.

Joe Flacco had other ideas. After a puzzling run that set up a third-and-three from his own 30, Flacco heaved the ball as far as he could throw it.

Jacoby Jones beat Rahim Moore and Tony Carter for the crucial 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in regulation, just a few minutes after he looked as if had joined Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff in Ravens infamy.

That merely helped tie the game and send it into overtime, the first in the postseason for the Ravens in franchise history. When the second overtime began, it meant it was their longest game ever.

After an exhausting, excruciating and exhilarating game full of huge plays, Baltimore got an interception from Corey Graham on an ill-advised Peyton Manning heave and a 47-yard game-winning field goal from Justin Tucker.

Not only do the Ravens move into the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, they tamed the Manning myth.

Manning looked as if he had sent the Denver Broncos into the host role next Sunday, but Baltimore beat him for the first time since he became invincible.

At 36, Manning looked like the old magician at times, slicing up the Ravens defense and merely mortal at others, particularly at the end.

He's not the same as he was pre-injury. Many more short passes, and lots of runs. There were a few great moments when he made Baltimore look clueless, but instead it's the Ravens going on to the AFC Championship.

Twenty-seven days ago, Flacco's future was the talk of Baltimore. He floundered badly against the Broncos, and Denver won handily.

The Broncos were heavily favored here, but it was quickly evident that the Ravens could play evenly despite the most unfavorable conditions.

Next Sunday, Baltimore gets a chance to even the score from last year should the New England Patriots beat the Houston Texans. They'll be looking forward to a return trip to Foxborough, Mass.

If the Texans win, the Ravens can try to play better in Houston than they did in October when they lost by 30 points.

It was an atmosphere the Ravens hadn't played before in the postseason, incredibly loud fans clad in orange, stamping on the floor, to keep warm in the frost, and intimidate their offense.

It was 13 degrees at kickoff at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and with the stands shaking, there was big play No. 1. Denver's Trindon Holliday ran a punt back 90 yards-an NFL postseason record.

It seemed an ominous sign for Baltimore. To start the second half, Holliday ran Tucker's kickoff back 104 yards, another ominous sign.

Between the two returns, the first time a return man scored on a punt and kickoff in a postseason game, there was nearly continual action and plays that will talked about for years.

There were two touchdowns before the Ravens defense even came on the field, and a third one barely five minutes into the game.

How could these teams keep up the pace?

For a quarter, calls went unexplained because referee Bill Vinovich's microphone went dead.

There was Manning seemingly taking command of the game, slicing into the Baltimore pass defense, but later looking shockingly mortal as the Ravens forced a fumble and then sacked him to end a fourth-quarter drive. By then, the game was tied at 28.

Flacco looked terrific. He twice found Torrey Smith for long touchdown passes, when Smith beat the suddenly old Champ Bailey.

At other times, he was rattled by the Broncos. Impervious to the crowd noise and the weather, Flacco had Baltimore in fine position to win.

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