It was the play that effectively ended the Baltimore Ravens’ 2011 season, and it eclipsed the fact that for most of the AFC championship game, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco actually outplayed Tom Brady in a 23-20 nail-biter that saw Brady’s New England Patriots advance to the Super Bowl. With 22 seconds left in the game, Flacco tried to hit receiver Lee Evans in the end zone from the Patriots’ 14-yard line. Flacco threw it on a rope, and the ball was there for Evans, but Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore deflected the ball just in time, and there was no play to be made.
Flacco threw an incompletion to tight end Dennis Pitta on the next play, and on the play after that, kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal wide left.
It was perhaps the Ravens’ most heartbreaking playoff loss in franchise history, because they seemed to be the better team. In their 24-9 wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. Flacco had another shot at one of his receivers in the right side of the end zone, and the results were very different — in a good way.
With 9:22 left in the game, and the Ravens already up, 17-9, Flacco threw a rainbow to Anquan Boldin from the Colts’ 18-yard line. Ravens fans could be forgiven for wincing at that moment, thinking that they were about to see a repeat of that gut-churner from the previous season, but Boldin would not be denied. Despite nearly perfect coverage from cornerback Darius Butler, Boldin leapt up, grabbed the ball, and brought it in for the touchdown that put things on lockdown for the Ravens.
“We ran the play earlier, and it was a great job by Anquan winning and coming down with the catch,” Flacco said after the game.
It’s just the wild-card round, but it’s also possible that such a play could erase old demons for a Ravens team that has been struggling to put things together on offense all season. Former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, fired last in the season, alternated between five-wide, no-huddle looks and stifling conservatism, and nothing seemed to work. Replacement Jim Caldwell called a fine game against Indianapolis’ inspired defense, and Flacco responded with 282 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“Joe made some tremendous throws,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought Joe threw the ball down field incredibly well with receivers making great catches.”
That was the difference. Flacco wasn’t always great, completing just 12 of 23 passes, and he got a lot of help after the catch, but he made the throw of the game when he needed to.
And unlike last season, the guy on the other end of that throw was ready to make the big play.
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