Ravens rally, shock Broncos in AFC

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The wide smiles in Baltimore on Saturday night might be matched by those in New England and Houston.

When the Ravens stunned the top-seeded Denver Broncos 38-35 in overtime, it meant the AFC championship game will wind up at either the Patriots’ or Texans’ home.

Those teams meet Sunday in the other AFC divisional playoff, and will be hard-pressed to equal the excitement and big plays provided by the Ravens and Broncos in icy Denver.

Rookie Justin Tucker’s 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime of the longest playoff game in 26 years sent the Ravens into their second consecutive conference title game. They lost 23-20 at New England a year ago.

Earlier this season, the Ravens (12-6) beat the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore. They lost 43-13 at Houston.

Later Saturday night, Green Bay was at San Francisco in an NFC matchup. On Sunday, NFC wild-card Seattle is at South champion Atlanta, followed by the game between AFC South winner Houston and East champ New England.

Ravens 38, Broncos 35, 2 OT

Joe Flacco’s 70-yard heave to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds remaining forced the overtime in frigid temperatures. Flacco is the only quarterback to win playoff games in each of his first five seasons, and he heads to his third AFC championship match. He also lost to Pittsburgh in the 2008 title game.

“We fought hard to get back to this point and we’re definitely proud of being here.” Flacco said. “We feel like it’s going to take a lot for somebody to come and kick us off that field come the AFC championship game.”

The Ravens also prolonged star linebacker Ray Lewis’ career. He announced before they beat Indianapolis in the wild-card round that this was the last of his 17 pro seasons.

Peyton Manning lost in his first postseason appearance with the Broncos (13-4), who had won their last 11 games to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs. They wasted it by giving up long plays, negating a record-setting performance by kick returner Trindon Holliday.

Holliday ran back the second-half kickoff 104 yards for a TD. He went 90 yards with a first-quarter punt return to become the first player to score on one of each in a playoff game.

“He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and for us to come in here and confuse him the way we did, and make the plays we did?” Lewis said. “We gave up two big special teams touchdowns, but the bottom line is, but we kept fighting.”

Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)

Oddly, there might be more doubts floating around the home team with the spiffy record than the visitors.

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