By Rich Kurtzman
Blunders and Baltimore bounced the Broncos from the playoffs.
Denver and Baltimore played a dandy of a Divisional round playoff football game Saturday night, and the Ravens’ relentless play won them the game. The Broncos jumped out to a 7-0 lead with a Trindon Holliday punt return touchdown, but back-to-back scores by Baltimore’s offense and defense gave them the 14-7 lead in the first quarter before Brandon Stokley’s touchdown tied it up.
At the end of regulation, the two teams couldn’t be separated, all tied up for the fifth time on the day at 35 a piece, they were headed into overtime. Denver’s defense made to big plays on the Ravens’ first two drives of the extra period, but in double overtime, Peyton Manning’s interception basically ended the Broncos’ season. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker kicked the winning 47-yard field goal that put the nail in Denver’s coffin, killing their dreams of the Super Bowl following a 13-3 regular season.
Offense overall: C-
The Broncos, the one that was second in the NFL in scoring this season, never showed up Saturday.
Manning’s play was full of miscues, including three turnovers, that cost Denver big time. His first one was an interception that was returned 39 yards by Corey Graham for the score and 14-7 lead. His second came late in the third quarter, setting the Ravens up with only 37 yards to go, which they did in five plays to tie the game at 28. But the most devastating was his third turnover, which came in double overtime, as he rolled right and threw to his left and into the hands of Graham again. Of the 35 points scored by the team, only 21 came from the offense, too few to win this physically demanding postseason contest.
Defense overall: D-
As bad as the offense was, the defense was multiple times worse.
Denver’s D started sloppily and were burned repeatedly by the Ravens all afternoon and evening long.
It started out with a 59-yard Torrey Smith bomb that burned Champ Bailey and continued with a 32-yard burn job by Smith on Champ in the second quarter to tie the game up at 21 just before the half. The biggest blunder was Rahim Moore’s play of the bomb by Joe Flacco, undercutting it and watching the ball float over his head and into Jacoby Jones’ hands to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left on the clock.
For one reason or another, Denver couldn’t get to Flacco enough, and the NFL’s leading sack team could muster only one sack on the game. They gave up huge plays all afternoon, including a 32-yard run by Ray Rice and 131 yards to him in the game. It was by far the worst performance by the unit in a long time, if not the entire season.
Special teams overall: A-
Special teams was the only phase of the game that really showed up to this playoff contest.
Return man Trindon Holliday set three different NFL records; his 90-yard punt return and 104-yard kickoff return were the longest in postseason history, and his total return yards were a record as well. He was the spark that ignited the Broncos, but one they couldn’t capitalize on. Kicker Matt Prater is the reason why they don’t get an A+ here, and his ugly field goal miss before halftime proved to be a massive mistake.
Coaching overall: F
While John Fox has been a relatively great coach all season long, he was at his worst Saturday. Just as his team was in certain aspects. The coach was far too conservative at the end of the game; instead of trying to put it away he put it on the defense. When it was 3rd and seven just after the final two minute warning, Denver ran the ball and was stopped for no gain. They should have tried to pass for the first, but elected to punt it away. Then, after Jones amazing touchdown to tie it up at 35, Fox told the team to take a knee at the end of regulation with 31 seconds remaining and two timeouts. That was a terrible call by him. With one of the best late-game quarterbacks and two timeouts, Fox didn’t want his team to even try to move into field goal range, where Prater could have possibly redeemed himself from the earlier miss.
In the end, Denver’s magical season came to an abrupt end in the second overtime, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of everyone associated with the Broncos.
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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.