On a day when a Baltimore defense inundated with injury was able to give Peyton Manning everything he could handle and more, the Ravens offense did not show up like the cavalry they were supposed to be. In fact, Flacco and company gave points away to Denver. It was a disgraceful performance.
It wasn't all on Joe Flacco, although Joe admitted after the game the pick-6 he threw to Chris Harris was supposed to be a fade route which instead he changed to a shallow slant. Joe told the media he should have just thrown that ball away. Too bad---that mistake changed the entire momentum of the game in favor of Denver.
There were tons of other mistakes to go around. Dropped passes---I sound like a broken record on this, but Flacco's receivers must lead the league in drops. Terrible blocking abounded, too. Bobbie Williams tried his best to fill in for Marshal Yanda at right guard, but Denver went through him like a turnstile. The result was not only Flacco getting beaten to the turf on numerous occasions, but also the Ravens could not get their running game going between the tackles.
Oh yeah, there were bad bounces, too. More than usual. The Ravens' pass rush got major pressure into Peyton's pocket early when Manning had to throw, and forced him into some rare batted-ball pop-ups---which fell harmlessly to the ground. Potential game-changers became bullets dodged by the Broncos.
As predicted, the Ravens did back into a playoff spot due to the loss by Pittsburgh in Dallas. But their beneficial seeding prospects are all but ruined now. They'll be fortunate to win their division if they can beat the Giants and the Bengals coming up...but even that won't guarantee them a home game in the playoffs, let alone a bye.
"You come to the Ravens' house and beat them handily, it's definitely a statement game," corner Chris Harris said. "We definitely wanted to show to everybody that we're an elite team." Harris is the guy who returned that interception 98 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown, and Denver cruised to its ninth straight victory.
Manning threw for 204 yards and a score in his ninth consecutive win against Baltimore, the first with the Broncos (11-3). But he was merely a game manager in this one, because Denver's defense dominated the Ravens, who sputtered in their first game with Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator.
This was supposed to be a test for Denver, which was 0-5 in Baltimore and was eager to face a quality opponent on the road. The Broncos gave a game ball to team owner Pat Bowlen, who got his first victory in Baltimore in his 29 years of ownership. "Pat Bowlen has owned the team for 29 years and has averaged 10 wins a season, but it's the first time he's won in this building," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I was proud to see that for him."
Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris stepped in front of Anquan Boldin, picked off Flacco's pass and sprinted down the right sideline with Flacco in pursuit. The quarterback tripped up Harris, who tumbled into the end zone, leaving Flacco flat on his stomach and with a cut lip.
"He just ran the out route and I was waiting to see when he was going to look back at the quarterback," Harris said. "As soon as he looked back, I looked back and the ball was there. I just made a play on the ball."
It was the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history, and it turned a close game into a rout. "I made a mistake. No other way to say it," Flacco said.
"Baltimore had some momentum there on the drive and looks like they're probably going to get the touchdown -- plus they get the ball the first series of the second half," Manning said. "So just a huge play. The turnover is good, the fact that he took it all the way to the house for a touchdown was even bigger. Big play, big swing in the game, in the momentum. I thought it kind of jump-started everything in the second half for us."
The Ravens (9-5) were playing their first game under Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron. Baltimore's offense sputtered in the first half, gaining only 119 yards and committing two turnovers that led to 10 Denver points.
Baltimore has lost three straight -- including two in a row at home for the first time since December 2007. The Ravens trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter before Flacco threw touchdown passes of 31 and 61 yards to tight end Dennis Pitta. "We couldn't get anything going until late," coach John Harbaugh said.
Caldwell's debut was a resounding flop. Flacco went 20 for 40 for 254 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception. Ray Rice ran for 38 yards on 12 carries and the Ravens produced a meager 56 yards rushing.
"As (part of) the Ravens Nation, as a player, I am embarrassed for our city," safety Ed Reed said.
Denver, on the other hand, appears poised to reach the postseason with confidence and momentum. The AFC West champions haven't lost since Oct. 7, at New England. The Broncos, who can still capture the top seed in the conference, finish with home games against Cleveland and Kansas City.
Baltimore's first offensive series under Caldwell lasted three plays and ended badly. Flacco fumbled on a third-and-1 plunge and the Broncos recovered at the Denver 47, which led to a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
In the first quarter, Baltimore totaled 21 yards on 12 plays, punted three times and lost a fumble. Denver went up 10-0 when Jacob Hester ran in from the 1 to cap an 11-play, 78-yard drive. Baltimore answered with three more unproductive plays before punting. On their fifth drive, the Ravens finally got their initial first down -- on a 14-yard run by Bernard Pierce with eight minutes left in the half.
Pierce eventually left the game with a concussion, as did wide receiver Torrey Smith, who hit his head after attempting to make a leaping catch near the sideline in the third quarter.
Denver pulled away with two third-quarter touchdowns. Manning threw a 51-yard scoring pass to Eric Decker, and after the Ravens went three and out, Knowshon Moreno ended a 39-yard drive with a 6-yard run to make it 31-3. Decker caught eight passes for 133 yards and Moreno finished with 118 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Terrell Suggs returned for Baltimore after missing one game with a torn biceps and made one tackle. ... Hester's score was the second rushing touchdown of his career and the first since his rookie season in 2008. ... Pitta had seven catches for 125 yards.. but the replays he'll be watching the day after will be his two drops/near misses/shoulda had 'em which would have figured big in the game early.
Team Stat Comparison
Passing 1st downs
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1st downs from Penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
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Yards per pass
Sacks - Yards Lost
Yards per rush
Red Zone (Made-Att)
Defensive / Special Teams TDs