- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rapid reaction from the Ravens' 38-35 double-overtime victory over the Broncos, viewing it from a Patriots’ perspective:
Stunning turn of events. The winner of Sunday’s Patriots-Texans divisional-round playoff game will now host the AFC Championship Game (6:30 p.m. ET) as a result of the fourth-seeded Ravens shocking the top-seeded Broncos. Few saw this result coming. If the Patriots beat the Texans, it sets up a rematch of last year’s AFC title game.
Ravens’ mental toughness shines. Few gave the Ravens a realistic chance to win, but their big-play offense and veteran defense helped overcome some major special-teams breakdowns. The Ravens’ physical and mental toughness was impressive. Whether it’s the Patriots or Texans as their opponent next week, the Ravens deserve respect. While some of their top players are past their prime, and linebacker Ray Lewis is set to retire, they know what it’s like to play in big games.
Manning’s big mistake. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made the critical mistake -- an interception while rolling to his right and throwing across his body late in the first overtime. That set up the winning points for the Ravens. Of all the ways the Broncos could have lost, that it came on a miscue from their best player was a wild turn of events. Also, Broncos coach John Fox’s conservative approach at the end of the fourth quarter figures to come under scrutiny.
What a game. After a disappointing set of four games in the wild-card round of the playoffs, this game didn’t disappoint. Terrific action. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco brought his A-game. The Broncos were a heavy favorite, but they didn’t play like the AFC’s top seed, making major mistakes in the critical moments. One nitpick: There was a little too much involvement from referee Bill Vinovich and the officiating crew.
Can’t overlook special teams. Playoff games are seemingly dissected from every angle, but how many analysts were focusing on special teams entering this one? Denver’s Trindon Holliday was a difference-maker with a punt return and kickoff return for a touchdown. Holliday entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Texans in 2010 out of LSU and was released by Houston in October (think they’d like to have that one back?). The Broncos claimed Holliday on waivers after their loss to the Patriots on Oct. 7. Often overlooked, special teams are a big part of these games, and they could be Sunday in the Patriots-Texans matchup.