Mile High Miracle

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2012 AFC Divisional playoff
Invesco Field at Mile High.jpg
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the site of the game
1 2 3 4 OT 2OT Total
BAL 14 7 7 7 0 3 38
DEN 14 7 7 7 0 0 35
Date January 12, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Stadium Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Location Denver, Colorado
Referee Bill Vinovich
Attendance 76, 732
Favorite Denver by 9.5 points
Network CBS
Announcers Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf and Solomon Wilcots

The Mile High Miracle is the name given to both the NFL 2012 AFC Divisional playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos on January 12, 2013, and its defining play,[1] a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass from Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to receiver Jacoby Jones with under a minute left in regulation. Playing on the road against the heavily favored Broncos, who had decisively defeated the struggling Ravens late in the regular season while on an 11-game winning streak, Flacco and the Ravens forced the Peyton Manning-led Broncos into double-overtime, when Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal to secure a 38–35 win. With 28 points scored in the first eleven minutes of the game, three return touchdowns, five lead changes, and single-digit temperatures, the game was described by Sports Illustrated as "one of the most exciting and entertaining postseason games in NFL history."[2] The Ravens would go on to beat the New England Patriots, and two weeks later, defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII for the franchise's second championship.

The Mile High Miracle was ranked #1 on NFL.com's Top 20 NFL Games of 2012. The game was described as "a contest that had everything: two special teams touchdowns, two bombs for scores and a pick-six – all without disintegrating into one of those nobody-can-stop-anybody affairs. The defenses did not play poorly; this was not a track meet. It had some balance."[3]

Background[edit]

Baltimore Ravens[edit]

On December 16, 2012, in Week 15, the 9–4 Ravens had an AFC duel with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos jumped ahead early with a 10–0 lead. The Ravens were threatening to narrow the Broncos' lead just before halftime; however, Broncos' cornerback Chris Harris stepped in front of a pass from Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco, returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens would then ultimately lose that game 34–17, suffering the most embarrassing home loss in the John Harbaugh era and leading to a widespread criticism of Flacco in the media. However, later that evening, the Ravens clinched their fifth straight playoff berth after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys. Despite making the playoffs, the Ravens were, by then, on a three-game losing streak, having lost to the Steelers at home in Week 13, and to the Washington Redskins on the road in Week 14. This slump led some media outlets to question the Ravens' ability to win football games, but after making a statement with a decisive 33–14 victory over the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and securing back to back division titles for the first time in franchise history, they finished with a regular season record of 10–6 and a rare home playoff game in the Wildcard Round. The 2012 season also saw long-serving linebacker Ray Lewis announce his retirement heading into the AFC Wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts. Lewis tore his triceps midway through October in his 17th season with the Ravens after Baltimore selected him with the 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. They defeated the Colts during the Wild Card round on January 6, 2013 at M&T Bank Stadium, with Ray Lewis celebrating his final game at home with his trademark dance both at the start of the game as he was introduced and on the final play of the game when he was brought back onto the field. This set up the Divisional round playoff, and Week 15 rematch with the number-one seeded Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos[edit]

The Broncos started slowly, losing three of their first five games, including a week 2, 27–21 loss vs the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. In that game, QB Peyton Manning struggled in front of a Monday Night Football audience, as he was intercepted three times in the first quarter. After the loss to the New England Patriots in week 5, they would never lose another for the rest of the 2012 regular season. They won their final eleven games, including an improbable come back win in Qualcomm Stadium against their AFC West rival, the San Diego Chargers, on a week 6 MNF showdown. They also defeated the Baltimore Ravens 34–17 on week 15 at M&T Bank Stadium. On December 12, they clinched the AFC West division championship with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and achieved a first round bye & home field advantage on the 30th, with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and were helped by the Indianapolis Colts, who defeated the Houston Texans earlier that day.

Game summary[edit]

First quarter[edit]

Game was played with a temperature of 13°F (−10.6°C),[4] making it the coldest playoff game ever played in Denver forcing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to wear gloves on his hands.[5] Following a Ravens punt on their opening possession, Broncos receiver Trindon Holliday opened up the scoring by returning the Sam Koch punt 90 yards for a touchdown, the first postseason punt return score in franchise history. Things seemed to get even better for Denver when Jacoby Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff and was downed on the 6-yard line. But two plays later, defensive back Tony Carter was hit with a 25-yard pass interference penalty on third down. Then Joe Flacco tied the game with a 59-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. The situation only got worse for Denver on the next drive, as Corey Graham picked off a Manning pass tipped by Eric Decker while trying to receive it and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown, making the score 14–7. But Manning rallied his team back, completing 5/7 passes for 69 yards on a 74-yard drive that ended on his 15-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley.

Second quarter[edit]

Late in the second quarter, a 32-yard reception by Broncos receiver Eric Decker set up Manning's 14-yard touchdown pass to Knowshon Moreno. Denver then forced a punt and drove to the Ravens 34-yard line, but this time they failed to score as Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal. Taking the ball back on their own 42 with 1:16 remaining, Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for 11 yards and tight end Dennis Pitta for 15 before finding Smith in the end zone on a 32-yard score, tying the score at 21 at the end of the half.

Third quarter[edit]

Holliday quickly broke the tie just 13 seconds into the third quarter by returning the second half kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, making him the first player ever to return a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in a postseason game. Later in the quarter, Manning lost a fumble while being sacked by Pernell McPhee, and Ravens lineman Paul Kruger recovered it on the Broncos 37-yard line, the play was reviewed because of the tuck rule, however referee Bill Vinovich ruled the fumble legal, this became the last play ever reviewed for that rule since it was abolished in 2013. Running back Ray Rice took it to the end zone from there with five consecutive running plays (one of them for 32 yards), the last one a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game back up at 28.

Fourth quarter[edit]

Midway through the fourth quarter, Denver drove 88 yards and scored on a 17-yard pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas, taking a 35–28 lead with just over seven minutes left in regulation. Baltimore responded with a drive to the Broncos 31-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs with 3:16 left. The Ravens defense had to use all their timeouts on Denver's ensuing drive, but managed to force a punt and get the ball on their own 23-yard line at the 1:09 mark. Flacco then threw an incomplete pass and scrambled for seven yards, setting up third-and-three from the Baltimore 30-yard line with 44 seconds remaining.

70-yard touchdown pass[edit]

The Ravens lined up in a three-receiver set. Boldin and Smith were lined up to the left, with Jones wide-right and Pitta in the slot. The Broncos, expecting a pass play, countered with a seven-defensive back formation, including safeties Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, David Bruton and Jim Leonhard. The Broncos rushed three: Robert Ayers, Von Miller, and Elvis Dumervil. Once the ball was snapped, Dumervil pushed McKinnie into the backfield, forcing Flacco to step forward in the pocket. Flacco then slid to his left, avoiding Ayers, who had spun around Ravens center Matt Birk and into the gap between right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher. Shedding Oher's block, Miller charged Flacco, forcing him to throw the ball early.[6]

Flacco, who prefers to bail out deep,[6] took advantage of the Broncos' mistakes in coverage. Cornerback Tony Carter failed both his assignments: to jam Jones at the line of scrimmage and then follow him up the sideline if no offense players were in the "flat," the short area of the field near the sideline. Moore and Leonhard both expected Flacco to throw for a first-down; as a result, they were poorly positioned to make a play, with Moore—assigned the deepest zone—having to backpedal toward Jones before making a mistimed jump to knock the pass away.[6] Jones caught the ball at the 20-yard line and jogged into the endzone for a touchdown.

The defensive formation had been successful throughout the season for the Broncos.[6] The play's failure was blamed on poor execution, with Moore being credited with the most critical mistake.[7] After the play, Denver head coach John Fox had Manning take a knee to run out the clock in regulation time.

Overtime periods[edit]

After the first three drives of overtime ended in punts, Corey Graham made his second interception of a pass from Manning intended for Stokley on the Broncos 45-yard line. On the last play of the first overtime period, Rice's 11-yard run moved the team into field goal range. Four plays later, rookie kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal to win the game.

Notable performances[edit]

Joe Flacco[edit]

The game was hailed as a breakout performance for Flacco, who had "outgunned" Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in back-to-back postseason trips.[1] The Associated Press ran an article stating "Welcome to NFL immortality, Joe Flacco," and compared his 70-yard touchdown pass to Roger Staubach's Hail Mary and Franco Harris's Immaculate Reception.[8] ESPN analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski said, "That was certainly one of the most remarkable throws in Ravens history and one of the best throws I've ever seen."[9] According to ESPN Stats & Information’s win probability model, Denver had a 97.2 percent chance of winning the game prior to the touchdown.[10] Retiring linebacker Ray Lewis said of Flacco, "He grew up today," and noted that before the game he had told his quarterback, "'You're the general now. Lead us to victory. You lead us today. I'm just here to facilitate things.'"[11] Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, with no turnovers.

Torrey Smith[edit]

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, matched up against all-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, caught three passes for 98 yards, his two touchdowns on receptions over twenty yards. The Broncos defense had allowed only three such touchdowns all season.[10]

Corey Graham[edit]

Ravens cornerback Corey Graham finished with eight tackles and two interceptions, the first he returned for a touchdown and the second in overtime, which led to the Ravens game-winning field goal. He was also named the "CBS Player of the Game" for his performance.

Peyton Manning[edit]

Manning finished 28/43 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.

Jacoby Jones[edit]

Jacoby Jones was on the receiving end of the "Mile High Miracle" play that forced the game into overtime. Jones finished the game with 2 receptions for 77 yards and 1 touchdown.

Trindon Holliday[edit]

Holliday's 90-yard punt return and 104-yard kickoff return were the longest ever in each NFL postseason category (with the latter broken just three weeks later by Jacoby Jones in Super Bowl XLVII). His 248 total special teams return yards were an NFL postseason record as well, breaking Andre Coleman's record of 244 return yards in Super Bowl XXIX (and later tied by Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI).

Starting lineups[edit]

The starting lineups for the game were:[12]

Baltimore Position Position Denver
OFFENSE
Torrey Smith WR Demaryus Thomas
Bryant McKinnie LT Ryan Clady
Kelechi Osemele LG Zane Beadles
Matt Birk C Dan Koppen
Marshal Yanda RG Chris Kuper
Michael Oher RT Orlando Franklin
Ed Dickson TE Joel Dreessen
Anquan Boldin WR Eric Decker
Joe Flacco QB WR Brandon Stokley
Vonta Leach FB QB Peyton Manning
Ray Rice RB Knowshon Moreno
DEFENSE
Haloti Ngata DT LDE Derek Wolfe
Ma'ake Kemoeatu NT DT Kevin Vickerson
Paul Kruger DE NT Justin Bannan
Terrell Suggs OLB RDE Elvis Dumervil
Danell Ellerbe ILB OLB Von Miller
Ray Lewis ILB ILB Keith Brooking
Corey Graham LCB OLB Wesley Woodyard
Cary Williams RCB LCB Champ Bailey
Bernard Pollard SS RCB Chris Harris
Chykie Brown CB SS Mike Adams
Ed Reed FS Rahim Moore

Legacy[edit]

The Ravens went on to avenge the previous year's AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots with a 28–13 win and went on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers (coached by Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh) in Super Bowl XLVII. Jacoby Jones continued his postseason success in the Super Bowl with a touchdown reception and a kick-off return for a touchdown. Following the season, he competed on the sixteenth season of Dancing with the Stars. He was the highest-placed male contestant and came in third overall behind winner Kellie Pickler and runner-up Zendaya.

The loss made a disappointing end for the Broncos, for whom there were high hopes after Manning's comeback season and an 11-game winning streak. Manning was criticized for throwing a pair of interceptions in his eighth time exiting a postseason without a win, tying him with Brett Favre for the most career post-season losses by a starting QB. Broncos head coach John Fox was blamed for his "ultra conservative" playcalling, particularly for not using the two-minute drill. Nearing the end of the first half, with the game tied and three time-outs available, Fox had Manning hand the ball off to his running back before running out the clock. At the end of regulation, with 2:30 remaining, Fox called three running plays up the middle and after the Jones' touchdown, made Manning take a knee with 31 seconds to play in regulation and 2 timeouts remaining.[1]

At 76 minutes and 42 seconds, the game was the 4th-longest in NFL history and was the sixth double overtime game in history, the first since the 2003 divisional round game between the St. Louis Rams and the Carolina Panthers, which coincidentally also featured head coach John Fox.[13]

By virtue of winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens—who lost numerous starters in the offseason—were scheduled to host the Kickoff Game on Thursday, September 5, 2013. However, due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles (with whom they share a parking lot), the Ravens were the first Super Bowl champions in 10 years not to host the following year's Kickoff Game. The 2013 Kickoff Game was instead played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in a rematch with the Broncos and resulted in a 49–27 win for the home team.

References[edit]

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