Other factors aside, upsetting Broncos begins and ends with Flacco

January 10, 2013 | Luke Jones

“Time of possession is always huge when you’re playing against [the] Mannings and Bradys,” said running back Ray Rice, who ran for only 38 yards on 12 carries in Week 15. “We have to go out there and execute, and then when we get in the red zone, we’d like to score – score touchdowns. [Those are] the games I’ve seen them lose – people score touchdowns in the red zone. They are able to sustain drives and the time of possession is different.”

The Ravens will balance that efficiency with opportunities to take shots vertically to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones when possible to keep the Denver secondary honest. Of course, how well the offensive line, which now includes Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, can protect Flacco will go a long way in determining if the Ravens can go deep.

It was a 43-yard completion to Jones that set up the Ravens in Denver territory before Flacco’s fateful interception before halftime in that Denver loss.

“If you can’t throw the ball downfield, the defense can suffocate you pretty quickly and sit on routes,” said coach John Harbaugh, who along with Flacco has led the Ravens to at least one playoff victory in each of the last five seasons. “In order to get people off you, you have to throw the ball downfield. You have to run them off. You have to push the ball downfield.”

The objectives are clear, but accomplishing them will be a different story in Denver where the Broncos lost only one game all season. In addition to the much-discussed altitude, the temperature will dip below 20 degrees as the game progresses on Saturday.

Since their heart-breaking loss in New England last January, the Ravens have desperately worked toward the opportunity to return to the AFC Championship to advance a step further than they did last year. Few believe they can beat the Broncos, who were clearly the better team in the regular season and are regarded as the favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.

But the Ravens’ message all week has been that they’re better than they showed themselves to be against Denver last month and they’re simply looking forward to having another chance to prove it on Saturday. For Flacco, it’s an opportunity to play like he did in Foxborough last season when he delivered what would have been the game-winning pass in the closing seconds, only to have one of his receivers fail to deliver.

And it’s another chance to prove his many critics wrong as many doubt whether he is truly capable of leading the Ravens to a championship. Flacco may not be able to do it alone, but the Ravens definitely can’t win Saturday without him being at the top of his game.

“It means a lot to us,” Flacco said. “This is where great teams are born and great players are born – coming up big in the playoffs and winning a lot of games.”

A win on Saturday would arguably be the biggest of his career to date.