It was set up, like Larry Davis , for Peyton Manning to dispose of the Ravens and meet Tom Brady next week in a much anticipated battle for the right to rep the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.

Leading up to the AFC Divisional game, the barber shop rap and the mainstream sports scene was focused on Manning’s remarkable comeback and Ray Lewis’ final symphony. Nobody was checking for Joe Flacco to be the difference maker . Since hitting the NFL set, Flacco has been productive and a playoff QB, but heads still doubted his ability to lead and will his team to big victories.

The ability was always there, and the swirling doubts about his metal in crunch time -- to some -- seemed unfounded, considering he led the Ravens to two road wins as a rookie in the ’09 playoffs. And last season, he came within a Lee Evans dropped pass of defeating the Pats and going to the AFC Championship. Still, the lingering doubts were there. It’s a "we don’t believe it till we see it" type of thing.

NFL playoff history is a double-edge sword. Some guys are good and lucky, often coming out on the right side of competition. Others are continuously dumped on and dissed by fate. A lot of people felt Flacco was one of the unfortunate ones.

In his 2011 playoff run, Flacco threw for 4 TDs and only one interception. In the divisional game, he had a 51.9 completion percentage and a QB rating of 97.1. In the Championship game, Flacco finished with a 61.1 completion percentage and a QB rating of 95.4, numbers that are better than his career averages and hardly reflecting a guy who can’t raise his level come playoff time. Just a guy who hasn’t seen the breaks fall his way – until Saturday.

In a reversal of fortunes that epitomizes the emotional complexities and unpredictable beauty of sports, Manning became a goat, throwing a terrible pick late in the game. Conversely, Flacco was on the winning side of an unfathomable play, toasting Denver’s Three Stooges secondary and hitting Jacoby Jones with a 70-yard bomb with 42 seconds left to send the game into OT, before the Ravens won it on a field goal in double OT, 38-35.

“You have to be a little bit lucky at times," Flacco told the Denver Post, after the win. "It worked out."

Did it ever. When Flacco aired out the improbable score, Denver’s probability of winning was over 97 percent. Most cats were taking bathroom breaks or tweeting when Jones hit pay dirt. It was an NFL playoff contest for the ages and the day Joe Flacco became the story in Baltimore. Moving forward, this may be Ray Lewis’ final Super Bowl ride, but Flacco is officially driving the whip.