By Rich Kurtzman
For the ninth straight week, the Denver Broncos have won, and for what seems like nine straight games, the offense started sluggishly. They eventually got into a rhythm though, putting one touchdown on the board in the first half, though the turning point of the game came with Chris Harris’ pick-six just before halftime. Peyton Manning connected with Eric Decker for a touchdown, and Knowshon Moreno ran one in as well to run the Broncos lead up to 31-3 in the third quarter. Baltimore scored twice in the fourth quarter to make the final score a bit more respectable at 34-17 Denver.
Offense Overall: B+
The Broncos went three-and-out on their first, third and fourth drives to start the game, and when their second drive stalled, they were forced to kick a field goal. The offense finally came alive in the second quarter, as Moreno hurdled Ravens’ safety Ed Reed and hyped his teammates up. They used the fifth-year running back as the work-horse on the drive, though Jacob Hester scored the touchdown. To start the second half, Manning used Moreno to set up the deep pass, and he hit Decker in perfect stride to push the Broncos lead to 24-3 at that point. A few minutes later, Manning connected with Joel Dreessen over the middle, putting Moreno in position for his score and the 31-3 lead.
Manning only passed for 204 yards on the day, but this was the Broncos’ most balanced offensive game, with Moreno running for 118 yards against a bruised and battered Ravens’ defense.
Defense Overall: B
Denver’s defense was superb for most of the game Sunday, save their fourth quarter laziness, which dropped their grade from an “A” to a “B.” On their first series, they forced Joe Flacco to fumble the ball, then forced four straight three-and-outs by Baltimore. The Ravens could only manage four first downs in the entire first half, and Harris’ 98-yard interception return for a touchdown completely swayed the game’s momentum in Denver’s favor right before the break. Baltimore kicked a field goal to start the second half, and Pitta scored on two long touchdowns in garbage time. And the tackling effort on his second score by the Denver defense was garbage as well as they basically let the tight end cruise down the sideline and into the end zone.
They should be commended for their consistent pressure on Flacco all day long—which rattled him early and shook his confidence—as well as holding one of the best running backs in the game, Ray Rice, to a mere 38 yards on the ground.
Special Teams Overall: C
Matt Prater went 2-3 on his field goal attempts, hitting the 27-yarder in the first quarter, a 36-yarder in the third, but missing a 45-yard attempt in the end. He also went 4-4 on extra points and boomed kickoffs deep into the end zone all game. Trindon Holliday was so-so as well, returning one kickoff 20 yards and one punt 27 yards, though he fumbled once as well, having Matt Willis smartly bat the ball out of bounds.
Coaching Overall: B
Once again, credit is due to Jack Del Rio for how well he had his defensive unit prepared to play Sunday. They were again on point, and his pressures got into the head of Flacco, giving Denver the advantage. Safety blitzes and stunts brought the heat on the Baltimore quarterback, and the way they shut down Rice was phenomenal.
Not only was it a big win for the Broncos because it was their first in Baltimore over the Ravens, but because Denver took firm control of the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff picture.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.