The Houston Texans threw away their chance to host the AFC Championship game by closing out the season 1-3 and losing the #1 seed to the Denver Broncos.
Now they’re one win away from getting that chance back.
The Baltimore Ravens, a team that Houston blew out when the two teams met in the regular season opened the door for the Texans by besting a mistake prone Denver Broncos team – and for their efforts have earned themselves a spot in the AFC Championship game next Sunday.
All Houston has to do is go into Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts and beat the Dynastic New England Patriots, a team that blew them out when the teams met a mere five weeks ago.
Easier said than done as the Patriots are a double-digit favorite heading into tomorrow night’s slugfest, but the Ravens proved it could be done by going into Denver and laying waste to the Broncos’ Super Bowl aspirations.
Talk about throwing down a gauntlet.
Whichever team ends up hosting the AFC Championship game next weekend gets a Baltimore Ravens team that is healthy and fully stocked for one of the few times this season, and played the Broncos like it was the last game they’d ever play…and for one Ray Lewis, it would have been.
But now the future Hall of Fame linebacker gets to play at least one more game, and his quest to keep playing out this string is inspiring this Ravens’ team to play it’s best, most clutch ball of the year – and for a while in overtime, one could swear you could hear the echos of Ravens’ defenses past…
Lewis was everywhere, logging 17 tackles and generally playing like a man 10 years younger.
“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.”
The Baltimore Ravens outplayed, out-hit and out-hustled the Denver Broncos in the AFC Division Round Playoff game in Denver Sunday afternoon, but still found themselves down by a touchdown with a long field and precious little time.
But Joe Flacco laughs at odds like those – or at least chuckles. Hell, maybe he doesn’t even smile, but he did what he had to do in dramatic fashion.
Flacco lofted a 70 yard strike to Wide Receiver Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds to play to forge a tie with the Broncos, then the Ravens’ fearsome defense took over, forcing a turnover that seemed inevitable as Baltimore stunned the #1 seeded Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime.
With the exception of two early drives, the Broncos offense sputtered against a motivated Ravens defense – in fact, the vaunted Peyton Manning and his no-huddle offense scored only 21 of Denver’s 35 points, as returner Trindon Holliday accounted for the other two scores, returning a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 104 yards for another score.
Both were playoff records for longest returns, as was his 248 total return yards.
While Manning was in the midst of his annual post-season meltdown, Ravens’ Quarterback Joe Flacco was busy completing passes that can only be described as mind-blowing.
One never really knows what they’re going to get from Flacco from game to game, but he always has the pretty deep ball and he has receivers that can separate, all he needed to do is put both of them together – and on this night, he did.
He hit Wide Receiver Torrey Smith on a 59 yard strike in the 1st Quarter, then found him again, as Smith made an adjustment over Broncos’ cornerback Champ Bailey for a 39 yard scoring snag just before the half. Flacco threw for 331 yards in an 18 for 34, three touchdown performance that included the perfect strike to Jones that sent the game into overtime.
Running Back Ray Rice ran for 130 yards, forcing the Broncos to defend the entire field and opening up the play action, killing Denver’s coverage over the middle when Flacco wasn’t throwing lasers downfield.
So Baltimore leaves Denver a smoldering ruin in what has to be one of the most devastating losses in Broncos’ franchise history, and Ray Lewis Extends his career for at least one more game, as they await word on the winner of Sunday’s matchup between New England and Houston…
…and if recent history repeats itself, the Ravens will have their rematch with the Patriots, looking for redemption for last year’s AFC Title game loss to New England.
And if revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, the Ravens hope it will be just as cold in Foxboro next Sunday as it was today in Denver…