The Denver Broncos fell agonizingly short against the Baltimore Ravens yesterday in one of the most bitter and disappointing defeats in franchise history. One would have to write a novel to fully describe the twists and turns in this Divisional Playoff game. But whether it’s the long or short version, Broncos fans will not like the ending. Baltimore won 38-35 in double overtime after completing a Hail Mary late in the fourth quarter, and the Broncos were sent to a stunning and early start to their offseason.
Denver had this game won several times, and there were a dozen plays that could have made the difference, but the most unbelievable occurred right at the end of regulation. The Ravens were down by 7 points when they faced a third-and-3 on their own 30-yard line with no timeouts remaining. There were about 40 seconds left in the game and the clock was running; victory was nearly a certainty. The Ravens went with their only option: Chuck the ball as far as you can and hope for a miracle. And a miracle is exactly what they got. As the ball was in the air safety Rahim Moore was in perfect position to defend the pass and was reading the ball like a center fielder. But inexplicably, he mistimed his jump and completely missed the football. Jacoby Jones secured the catch and trotted into the end zone to complete the 70-yard touchdown play with only 31 seconds to go.
The rest is history. Peyton Manning threw a costly interception in overtime that allowed Baltimore to kick a 47-yard field goal for the win. Could of, would of, should of. That’s all that’s left for this Broncos team that was poised for a serious Super Bowl run.
Here are some thoughts on the Broncos loss to the Ravens:
- Several of the things that Denver struggled with during the regular season came back to haunt them yesterday. Matt Prater’s field goal issues was one of them. With a 7-point lead, the Broncos faced a fourth-and-8 on the Ravens 34-yard line with a little more than a minute to go before halftime. John Fox decided to send out the field goal unit for a 52-yard attempt that would have given Denver a 10-point lead. Considering the cold weather conditions, kicking the field goal was a little risky. That made the move surprising since Fox is known for taking the conservative route. Instead of punting the ball and playing for a 7-point halftime lead, Prater let loose with one of the worst kicks of his career. He kicked the Mile High turf harder than the football and the Ravens took over on their own 42-yard line. They took advantage of the field position by scoring a touchdown with 36 seconds to go in the second quarter. This 10-point swing made the difference in a tight game. But more importantly, in my opinion, this series stuck in Fox’s head and prodded him to constantly go conservative the rest of the game.
- After the Ravens tied it with their Hail Mary in the fourth quarter, Fox decided to kneel the ball and play for overtime. Conservative decisions like that is playing not to lose, and more often than not that type of thinking gets a team beat, which is exactly what happened.
- Denver lost the turnover battle once again. What became commonplace in the regular season carried on straight through to the playoffs. Baltimore scored on a pick-6 in the first quarter, and they put up 17 points off of three Broncos turnovers.
- Knowshon Moreno was having a nice game when he was forced out with a knee injury. This made Denver go with a heavy dose of Ronnie Hillman down the stretch which hamstrung the offense. Hillman struggles in pass protection and has a tough time getting any push on runs between the tackles. He just isn’t that type of player. The result was a lot more pressure on Manning in crunch time and seeing Denver fail in several short yardage situations. The offense just wasn’t the same without Moreno, and the injuries to him and Willis McGahee played a big part in derailing the season.
- Manning threw for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns, but his 3 turnovers were massive. His overtime interception was an epic mistake; a throw he simply cannot make. If he throws that ball away Denver would have still had a third-and-6 from their own 38 and been in good position to win the game. He had one of his worst days of the season in regards to quarterback rating and it seemed the offense didn’t have their big play ability. While the Ravens were completing several long passes for touchdown strikes, it was frustrating to see Denver not even attempt a deep shot.
- Where did that 2nd-ranked Denver defense go? They gave up 479 total yards and the secondary was scorched for 324-yards passing. The front 7 registered only a single sack and that didn’t occur until overtime. You have to give Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense credit. The play calling was on point all day and they executed very well, especially on third downs. They converted on 7 of their 17 third-down attempts which was a drastic improvement from the regular season meeting between these teams. Even though Manning did not have a great day, he had them in position to win the game late in the fourth quarter. In the end, it was the defense that failed to deliver a playoff victory.
- The referees had a tough day. In all they called 18 penalties and lost control of the game a few times. But even if some of the 10 penalty flags thrown against Denver were questionable the Broncos made too many dumb mistakes. Several holding penalties kept the offense behind the sticks and at least two pass interference calls extended Baltimore drives on third downs. Denver struggled to overcome mistakes in almost every facet of the game and the penalties were just too much.
- Despite all the criticism the Broncos deserve today, you have to give Trindon Holliday some props for his amazing performance. He returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and a kickoff 104 yards for a score to open the second half. Those set NFL records for longest punt and kick returns in playoff history, and his 248 total return yards are also an NFL record. It’s too bad that his efforts will be relegated to a footnote thanks to the loss.
- The Mile High crowd was amazing yesterday. Even though it was bitterly cold the crowd was electric from start to finish. It’s a shame they didn’t get rewarded with a victory.
- This is a tough way to head into the offseason. The Broncos had an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often and they couldn’t take advantage of it. The good news is that Denver should be in the thick of it for the next few years. They are in a good position in a weak division and should find themselves back in the playoffs very soon. Not to mention that a loss like this can drive a team to future successes. The last time Denver suffered a similar defeat was against Jacksonville in 1996. That team responded by winning the next two Super Bowls. Can history repeat itself? We will find out soon. Go Broncos!