AFC playoffs: Dennis Pitta's third-and-13 catch big for Baltimore
Denver • In his BYU days, Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta witnessed teammate Austin Collie's legendary reception against Utah.
Pitta's overtime catch in Saturday's 38-35 defeat of Denver could not quite match the impact of Collie's fourth-and-18 play, but his third-and-13 performance was just as big in its own way.
The play did not lead directly to the winning score, but it may have saved the game for the Baltimore Ravens.
If not for Pitta's 24-yard catch on a play that began at the Baltimore 3, the Ravens would have been punting out of their end zone and probably given the Broncos the ball in Baltimore territory. Instead, Pitta helped them eventually move the ball to midfield, before their punt coverage team pinned the Broncos at their own 7 to begin what turned into Denver's final possession of the season.
On the critical, field-flipping play, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco found Pitta in a seam over the middle. Pitta beat safety Jim Leonhard to make the catch.
"Joe did a god job of kind of putting it up where I could go and get it, make a play on it," Pitta said. "We were backed up, and it was huge for field position."
That was Pitta's only reception after halftime; he finished with three catches for 55 yards. Just before halftime, his 15-yard catch took the Ravens to the Denver 32, and Flacco found Torrey Smith on the next play for a tying touchdown with 36 seconds remaining.
If the Ravens had lost, Pitta would have been replaying a missed opportunity on their second-to-last drive of regulation. Covered tightly by Mike Adams, Pitta could not hang onto a pass from Flacco on a fourth-and-5 play from the Denver 31.
On the other side, a Baltimore defense anchored by three linemen with Utah connections Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu held Denver to 21 offensive points and kept the Broncos from scoring on their two overtime possessions. Just as significantly, the Ravens' defense got the ball back with 1:09 remaining in regulation, when Denver held a 35-28 lead and could have run out the clock after the pass intended for Pitta fell incomplete with 3:12 left.
After the Broncos recorded a first down, Kemoeatu stopped consecutive running plays and forced Denver to punt.
The three ex-Utahns, who lockered next to one another at Sports Authority Field, were credited with three tackles each. Kruger also had two quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble.
Zane Beadles, a former Ute, started at left guard for a Denver offense that posted 398 total yards. Ravens receiver David Reed and Broncos defensive lineman Sealver Siliga, also from Utah, were listed as inactive for Saturday's game.