Holliday sparks Broncos to 28-21 lead over Ravens

By ARNIE STAPLETON - AP Pro Football Writer
    2013-01-12 18:07

DENVER (AP) - Trindon Holliday became the first player in NFL playoff history to return both a punt and a kickoff for scores Saturday and the Denver Broncos took a 28-21 lead over the Baltimore Ravens midway through the third quarter of their bitterly cold AFC divisional playoff game.

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 galloped 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.

Peyton Manning, 0-3 in playoff games below 40 degrees, wore gloves on each hand in the cold.

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.

Goodell said he realizes it's an exciting play but worries that players will keep getting head injuries.

The Ravens countered Holliday's speed with Torrey Smith's. The Baltimore receiver breezed past Champ Bailey for two long touchdowns in the first half, including one just before halftime that tied it at 21.

Smith had just two catches in the first half, but they covered 91 yards and both went for scores.

He sped past Bailey for a 59-yard TD in the first quarter and then beat him down the sideline for a 32-yard TD catch 36 seconds left before the break that capped a three-play, 58-yard drive that began after Matt Prater botched a 52-yard field goal attempt that would have given Denver a double-digit lead.

Running back Knowshon Moreno's first touchdown catch of the season, a 13-yard grab in tight coverage by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, had given the Broncos a 21-14 lead.

Manning, the league's only four-time MVP, had lost his three previous playoff games below 40 degrees, all while playing for the Indianapolis Colts, who released him last year after a series of neck operations.

Manning had a stellar bounce-back season in Denver, throwing for 4,659 yards and a team-record 37 TDs.

Wearing gloves on both hands for the first time in his career - the one on the right hand as much a concession to the altered feel of his grip following the four neck surgeries as it was for the wintry weather, Manning threw a 15-yard TD toss to Brandon Stokley to tie it at 14.

Jacoby Jones botched the ensuing kickoff return, losing the handle on the ball as he brought it out before smothering it at the 6.

After a key pass interference call on Tony Carter allowed the Ravens to get out from the shadow of their end zone, Baltimore tied it at 7 when Smith got behind Bailey and hauled in Flacco's 59-yard touchdown toss.

Forty-two seconds later, cornerback Corey Graham picked off a Manning pass that deflected off receiver Eric Decker and returned it 39 yards for the score - and the Broncos trailed for the first time since Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay.

The Broncos were trying to avoid becoming yet another No. 1 seed to lose in the divisional round. Since 2005, eight of the 14 top-seeded teams lost their first game in the playoffs, four in each conference.


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