Peyton Manning completed 17-of-28 passes for 204 yards and a single touchdown as the Denver Broncos handed the Ravens their most depressing loss of the year, 34-17, on Dec. 16 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.
Despite the loss, the Ravens automatically clinched the AFC North and reached the playoffs for the fifth straight year thanks to the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers later that day.
The Ravens fired their longtime offense coordinator, Cam Cameron, just a day after an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9. They replaced Cameron with Jim Caldwell, who won a Super Bowl as the quarterbacks coach for Manning with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. But Caldwell’s play-calling wasn’t any better than Cameron’s as the Ravens offense fell apart early against the Broncos.
Baltimore’s offense was terrible from the very start of the game, committing two costly turnovers in the first half that pushed them behind 17-0 at halftime. Both turnovers were committed by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who fumbled the ball on the first possession of the game when he was stripped after trying to nose dive for a first down on a third-and-short. The Broncos recovered the fumble at midfield and quickly moved into field goal range to take a 3-0 lead.
Flacco’s second turnover came just seconds before halftime. He had moved the team all the way down to the Broncos’ goal line, but tried to force a pass into the end zone which was picked off by Broncos’ cornerback Chris Harris, who ran it back for a 98-yard defensive touchdown.
Down 17-0 the Ravens made a few plays in the second half, but Denver’s offense was able to score enough points to keep a comfortable lead over Baltimore.
Most Outstanding Player(s) of the Game:
Manning may be the Broncos’ leader on offense, but it was running back Knowshon Moreno who served as the work horse against the Ravens. Moreno ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, averaging a whopping 5.4 yards per carry. He helped milk the clock for Denver in the second half, keeping the Ravens’ offense off the field and a potential comeback out of reach. Broncos’ cornerback Chris Harris also stood out, as he made perhaps the biggest play of the game by intercepting Flacco and running 98 yards for the pick-six. His interception for a touchdown was the longest in Broncos franchise history.
Unsung Hero of the Game:
Flacco wasn’t the only Ravens’ offense player to struggle. Ray Rice also had a dismal game, running for only 38 yards on 12 carries, thanks to the stout play of the Broncos’ interior defensive linemen. Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe led Denver’s D-line, and clogged every running hole Rice might have dashed through. The Broncos’ defense wouldn’t have dominated without winning the battle up in the trenches.
More Game Notes:
The Ravens were led by tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. Pitta dropped a few key passes early in the game, but made up for them in the second half with stellar play to keep the score from being too lopsided. Flacco completed 20-of-40 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 76.5 passer rating.
Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes recorded 13 tackles replacing an injured Ray Lewis. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey led the Broncos with six tackles and a pass deflection.
This was the Ravens’ most embarrassing loss of the last five seasons. They fired their offense coordinator—a mistake, many believe—and followed up with this kind of offense performance? Caldwell was supposed to take over and get the Ravens’ fast, no-huddle attack going, but the team looked even slower than before.
It’s about time Flacco start calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage. Now that Cameron is gone, no one associated with the team knows the offense better than Flacco. Let him call his own shots, and if he fails, at least we know who to blame.
Nonetheless, the Ravens defense played very well against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Had they played so well in their two previous games, while facing a pair of backup quarterbacks, the Ravens would be 11-3. Hopefully, they keep this aggressive play up, as two weeks remain before the postseason arrives.
The Ravens (9-5) will host the New York Giants (8-6) on Dec. 23.