|Flacco was the best quarterback on the field Saturday in Denver. (US Presswire)|
Nobody outside of Baltimore (save CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman) had the Ravens leaving Denver with a win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos. But that's exactly what happened thanks in part to Joe Flacco playing like … well, a top-5 quarterback. His counterpart looked uncomfortable all evening and his four turnovers -- including an overtime interception that sealed Denver's fate -- were a testament to that. Meanwhile, somewhere in Florida, Tim Tebow is wondering where it all went wrong.
All right, let's get to this…
Joe Flacco. Remember when we all made fun of Flacco for calling himself the best quarterback in the NFL? On Saturday, he was just that, playing like a man worth every penny of that top-5 QB contract his agent was busily typing up with each touchdown bomb. Flacco had come up short in big moments early in his career, but last year in New England he was betrayed by Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff. Against the Broncos he was near-flawless, something that has to concern whoever wins Sunday's Texans-Pats matchup.
Torrey Smith. After finding a franchise quarterback, the monkey on general manager Ozzie Newsome's back was his inability to land a legit wide receiver. The Ravens got Flacco in 2008 and three years later, they drafted Smith. He came into the league as big, fast and raw, but he adjusted quickly and has been Flacco's favorite deep target ever since. He showed up against the Broncos, making future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey look like he was wearing moon boots and concrete pants. It didn't help that Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio never thought, "You know, we might need to give Bailey some safety help." Smith is a nightmare matchup for any cornerback, which helps opens things up for Flacco's other favorite target, Anquan Boldin.
Ray Rice. The Ravens fans lament during the Cam Cameron era: "Please, for the love of all that's holy, give Ray Rice the ball." It rarely happened. Now that Cameron has been replaced by Jim Caldwell, Rice has become more involved in the offense. He ended the night with the 30 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown. He also didn't fumble, which he did twice in last week's win.
Jim Caldwell. The Caldwell regime got off to a dubious start just four weeks ago when the Ravens hosted the Broncos and got their arse's handed to them. It was a completely different game this time and Caldwell outcoached Mike McCoy as much as Flacco outplayed Manning. Makes you wonder why coach John Harbaugh stood by Cameron for so long.
Ray Lewis. He didn't have a great game -- far from it, actually -- but his extended victory lap continues for at least another week.
Trindon Holliday. Imagine what the score would have been if Holliday didn't score two special-teams touchdowns, both more than 90 yards.
Tim Tebow. We were convinced that Tebow was furiously stabbing his homemade Broncos voodoo dolls all night. We also joked that when the Broncos got the ball for the first time in overtime near their own 20, that it would've been the perfect spot for Tebow to throw a slant to Demaryius Thomas and let him run for an 80-yard touchdown.
Peyton Manning. That's what we expected Manning to look like in his first appearance of the season, after four neck surgeries and a year off. Instead, he was first-team All-Pro and he's headed to the Pro Bowl. And given the way he whipped up on the Ravens in Week 15, we just assumed it would be business as usual this time, which would mean a lot of audibles, a lot of short and intermediate passes, and a lot of frustrated Baltimore defenders. Instead, Manning had his worst playoff outing ever and he now has one fewer playoff win with the Broncos than Tebow.
Champ Bailey. He was the Peyton Manning of the defense. We mentioned it above, but Torrey Smith had a field day at Bailey's expense and Broncos coordinator Jack Del Rio never thought to help out Bailey. So the Ravens kept throwing bombs and Bailey kept getting burned. If you made a drinking game out of it you would've had alcohol poisoning before halftime.
Rahim Moore. We'll set the stage: Fourth quarter, Denver leads 35-28, Baltimore faces a third-and-3 with 41 seconds to go, and the ball on the Ravens' 30-yard line. The Broncos rushed three, dropped eight into coverage, and even though they had bracketed coverage on Jacoby Jones, he ran by one defender and got behind safety Rahim Moore for the most improbable playoff touchdown we've seen in a long time.
For some perspective, consider this:
According to the ESPN Stats & Info win probability model, Broncos had 97.2% chance to win the game in the situation before Jones' TD— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2013
John Fox. Hey, John, you have Peyton Manning. How about you take it easy on the ultra-conservative play-calling?
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