|Tribute To A Title: Play Of The Postseason: What To Call It?|
By Joe Platania
For every football team, during every game, during every season, there are pivotal moments that define any given interval.
For the 2000 Ravens, most fans would probably agree it was Ray Lewis' interception and runback for a touchdown at Tennessee during the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
A future Hall of Fame linebacker, Lewis grabbed a deflection off Titans running back Eddie George and raced down the left sideline to help seal the Ravens' AFC Championship Game berth on the way to their Super Bowl XXXV title.
This year, the Ravens benefited from many major postseason moments, and the one PressBox chose as the biggest was Jacoby Jones' last-minute, 70-yard touchdown catch Jan. 12 during the Divisional Round at Denver.
It's the kind of play that begs for a nickname, such as the "Immaculate Reception" or "The Catch." It has been termed the "Mile High Miracle," among other monikers, but this writer prefers the "Charm City Chuck."
But by whatever name the play becomes known, this year's Ravens' seminal moment was one in complete synchronization with their evolution as a team. In 2012, thanks in part to injuries and age on defense, the Ravens' offense drove the team. Thus, it was up to quarterback Joe Flacco, rather than Lewis, to assume the mantle.
Furthermore, it was up to the newly bolstered receiving corps -- the best the team has had since the 1996-97 halcyon days of Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson -- to provide the kind of weaponry that gives any quarterback the chance to achieve greatness.
And it was up to the offensive line, which had been reconfigured late during the season, to provide experience at key spots and protect the quarterback.
And, as with any big play, it needed a little luck.
The scene was Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High on a bone-chilling early Saturday evening. The Divisional Round matchup featured the top-seeded Broncos against the Ravens during a point-filled, back-and-forth game, and it looked as if the Broncos were going to prevail.
Quarterback Peyton Manning applied what seemed to be the coup de grace during a 10-play, 88-yard drive against an exhausted Ravens defense, hitting Demaryius Thomas with a 17-yard touchdown to give Denver a 35-28 lead with just minutes left during regulation.
With one minute, nine seconds left during the fourth quarter, things looked hopeless. The Ravens were still trailing by seven points and had no timeouts left. Even worse, they needed a touchdown to simply tie the game, and the ball was on their own 23-yard line.
On first down, Flacco tried a deep pass down the right side to tight end Dennis Pitta, which was incomplete.
Then Flacco looked downfield again -- a subtle bit of foreshadowing of what was to come -- but couldn't find anyone open, so he scrambled for 7 yards.
There were 41 seconds left, and it was third-and-3. What to do next?
But thanks in part to two return touchdowns from Denver's Trindon Holliday, the Ravens were in dire straits. Jones had been slowly working into Flacco's progression targets during the season, even with big receiving performances from Pitta and Anquan Boldin.
Flacco had been wanting to go downfield, and he needed Jones more than ever. Flacco had targeted Jones on three other occasions earlier during the game, with no completions. But, this time, he saw Jones singled up on outside coverage. Curiously, it came at a time when Denver could least afford to let anyone get behind its secondary.
Jones baited the cornerback into a stutter-and-go move, and he ran downfield with a free release. Broncos safety Rahim Moore saw Jones alone and sprinted over to defend him. But, as luck would have it, two things were working against the Broncos at that moment.
Ravens tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher provided a wide pocket for Flacco to see the field, and Moore -- a free safety responsible for the deep middle -- was on a straight-line path across the field toward Jones, rather than taking a sharp angle to where the ball ended up.
Moore launched himself toward Jones in a last-ditch effort to knock down the ball, but the damage was done. Jones gathered it in at the 20-yard line and ran into the end zone while blowing kisses. The play took 10 excruciating seconds, but with Ravens kicker Justin Tucker's extra point, the game was tied with 31 seconds to go during regulation.
The air may be thin in Denver, but it was sucked out of the stadium at that point. The Ravens battled through a fifth quarter and part of a sixth, then prevailed during the fourth-longest NFL postseason game ever.
A spectacular, singular moment turned a game -- and, eventually a season -- on its collective ear.
Issue 182: February 2013