The Ravens (12-6) forced overtime on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation, after Jones slipped behind a pair of Broncos defenders along the sideline.
Late in the first overtime, Peyton Manning threw across his body on second down and Corey Graham picked off the ball to give the Ravens the ball on the Denver 45. Two plays later, the first overtime ended and the teams switched directions, and after three Ray Rice runs up the middle, Tucker sailed his game-winner through the uprights with room to spare.
Baltimore will travel to either New England or Houston for the AFC title game next Sunday, as linebacker Ray Lewis' career extends at least one more game.
The last NFL game that went to two overtimes was on Jan. 10, 2004, when Carolina beat the Rams 29-23 in St. Louis on the first play of the second quarter.
Leading 35-28 with 1:15 left in regulation, the Broncos punted to Jones, the Pro Bowl returner who was overshadowed all day by Trindon Holliday. He made a fair catch at the 23 with 1:09 to go.
On third-and-3 from his own 30, Flacco wound up and found Jones down the right sideline for the stunning score. Tony Carter let Jones go and Rahim Moore tried to go up to bat it down, but mis-timed his jump.
The Broncos got the ball at their 20 with 30 seconds left, but Manning took a knee to send the game to OT. Denver also went into overtime in the playoffs last year, when Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard TD on the first play to beat Pittsburgh.
Manning atoned for a fumble that led to a score by Baltimore by driving Denver 88 yards in 10 plays and hitting Thomas from 17 yards out for the go-ahead score that broke a 28-all tie midway through the fourth quarter.
And Holliday became the first player in NFL playoff history to return both a punt and a kickoff for scores.
The Broncos (13-4) became the latest No. 1 seed to lose in the divisional round. Since 2005, nine top-seeded teams lost their first game in the playoffs.
In the regular season, Denver breezed past the Ravens 34-17 in Baltimore on Dec. 16 after racing to a 31-3 lead but this one was close all the way before the Broncos saw their winning streak end at 11 games.
Holliday, the NFL's shortest – and quite possibly fastest – player, followed an amazing block by Jacob Hester to return the second-half kickoff 104 yards to put Denver ahead 28-21. That was 2 yards longer than the record set in 2010 by Atlanta's Eric Weems.
In the first half, Holliday got the scoring started when he fielded Sam Koch's punt, broke one tackle and raced down the Ravens' sideline for a 90-yard TD return, avoiding the punter as he zipped into the end zone. The previous longest TD on a punt return in a playoff game was Jermaine Lewis' 88-yarder for Baltimore in 2001.
Manning, 0-4 in playoff games below 40 degrees, wore gloves on each hand in the cold. He was sacked and coughed up the ball at his 37 late in the third quarter, Paul Kruger recovering for Baltimore.
Rice carried five times for 37 yards, taking it in from a yard out with 20 seconds left in the quarter to tie it at 28.
The 13-degree temperature at kickoff made this the coldest playoff game ever played in Denver. The wind chill was 2. The only colder game played in Denver was against San Diego on Dec. 10, 1972, when the temperature was 9 degrees.
Holliday also returned a punt and a kickoff for scores in the regular season, and his big day came just an hour after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated his intention to consider this offseason the idea of abolishing kickoffs altogether for safety's sake.
Ravens defeat Patriots, set up Harbaugh battle in Super Bowl, January 20, 2013:
John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens set up a family reunion at the Super Bowl, shutting down the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and a defense led by Ray Lewis that made Tom Brady look downright ordinary.Next up for Harbaugh and the Ravens is younger brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat Atlanta 28-24 earlier in the day for the NFC title."I don't know if we had a dream this big," John Harbaugh said. "We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments -- just like all brothers."They'll meet in two weeks in New Orleans -- what a place for a party to celebrate the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.It also will be quite a last game for Lewis, the emotional linebacker who will retire after the matchup with the 49ers, who opened as a 5-point favorite."This is our time.
This is our time," said Lewis, who made 14 tackles Sunday and has 44 in three postseason games after missing 10 weeks with a torn right triceps.Driven by Lewis' pending departure from the NFL, Baltimore's defense stepped up in the playoffs. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime, but this was no contest in the second half."We've lost before. It takes a while to get over," Brady said.It also was a first for the Patriots, who hadn't lost an AFC championship at home.After they had avenged last year's AFC title game loss at Gillette Stadium, many of the Ravens gathered on the field jumping, chest-bumping and whooping before several thousand fans wearing Ravens jerseys -- mostly Lewis' No. 52 -- who remained in the stands.As in the previous two playoff wins against Indianapolis and Denver, the Ravens (13-6) were brilliant offensively in spots. This might be 17-year-veteran Lewis' team, but it's also Flacco's, and the quarterback's six road wins are the most in playoff history."It was pretty awesome," said Flacco, who has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs. "We were here last year and thought we had it, but came up a little short. Guys came out in the second half and made plays. ... We put pressure on them like that, and it worked pretty well."Flacco, whose contract ends after the Super Bowl, is the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. He was dynamic with his arm and precise with his decision making. Looking much more the championship passer than Brady did, his throws of 11 and 3 yards to Anquan Boldin and 5 to Dennis Pitta all were perfect.The touchdown by Pitta capped the Ravens' best drive of the game, covering 87 yards in 10 plays and made it 14-13. It started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty, and it was an indication of things to come.
"We've always believed in Joe," Harbaugh said. "And for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row ..."New England (13-5) lost a home AFC title matchup for the first time in five games. The loss denied Brady and coach Bill Belichick a shot at their sixth Super Bowl. They've gone 3-2, losing their last two times in the big game.Instead, it's the AFC North champion Ravens heading to the Big Easy, seeking their second NFL championship. San Francisco has won five."All these men out there, there might just be only five of us up here, but every man out there sacrificed this year for each other," Lewis said during the trophy ceremony. "And man, we did it and we're on our way to the Super Bowl. That's awesome."The Ravens have gotten there the hard way, with no postseason bye. Then again, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions took that route.The Ravens also were pushed into a second overtime in frigid Denver last weekend before eliminating Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos.And now they've cast aside the league's most successful franchise of the last dozen years."I'd probably say we came up a little short in every area," Belichick said.New England, which hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble.
Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defense yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.Awakened by Baltimore's march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens' secondary, making it 10-7.It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who's good at sacks, not much in coverage -- found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.But Brady made a mental error himself, not calling timeout quickly enough after a short scramble. So the Patriots didn't get a shot at the end zone and Gostkowski made his second kick.Shockingly for an offense that scored 557 points this season, that was it for New England."We are probably the only team in the AFC that matches up good with the boy, No. 12 over there and his coach," linebacker Terrell Suggs said of Brady and Belichick.
Game notes: Brady now has 5,949 yards passing, the most in NFL history for the postseason. He threw for 320 yards Sunday but was picked off twice in the fourth quarter. ... Ridley sustained a head injury but walked off the field. Patriots CB Aqib Talib hurt his thigh and DT Kyle Love injured his knee. Backup safety Patrick Chung was helped off the field after one play. ... Baltimore beat San Francisco 16-6 in the 2011 season.