Just like they always seem to do, the Denver Broncos rolled in and promptly rolled over at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday afternoon. Their defense put together an impressive goalline stand on the Ravens’ opening drive, stopping the Ravens on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at 1 on what should have been an 89-yard touchdown drive, and you thought, “hey, maybe Denver came to play today…”
That would be the end of that, though.
The Broncos punted the ball back to the Ravens after picking up just 14 yards on their first drive, and Joe Flacco easily moved the ball down the field again, going 73 yards on 9 plays. Not to be denied this time around, Flacco punched the ball into the end zone himself, giving the Ravens a 7-0 lead. Denver managed just 18 yards on their second drive before again punting. This time, it was a 5-play, 72-yard touchdown march for the good guys, capped off by a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown run, and the rout was on.
On the ensuing kickoff, backup linebacker Jason Phillips blew up Denver kick returner Demaryius Thomas, Edgar Jones stripped the ball out, and Ken Hamlin fell on it to give the ball right back to the offense. Though they went 3-and-out, a Billy Cundiff field goal made the score 17-0 Ravens with 9 minutes to play in the first half. While the game could have easily been 28-0 at this point, and REALLY over, for all intents and purposes the 17 point lead was plenty to seal the Broncos’ fate for the afternoon.
Though Denver would score on a 42-yard touchdown strike from Kyle Orton to Brandon Lloyd with just under a minute left in the half, the game was never close. It was the longest pass play against the Ravens this year (until a 44-yard Orton-to-Lloyd TD in junk time – a play that never happens if Ed Reed is in the game), and it was safety Dawan Landry who was victimized, getting caught flat-footed as Lloyd raced past him and beat him to the spot in the back of the end zone. It was a disappointing end to a half in which the Ravens’ secondary had, to that point, kept the Broncos’ high-flying aerial attack in total check. Even if it was disappointing that his stone hands couldn’t pull in at least one interception, cornerback Fabian Washington had perhaps his best game as a Raven, batting down several passes. At one point in the first half, Baltimore had outgained Denver by a 219-42 margin.
Sure Kyle Orton ended up with yet another 300-yard passing performance, which is likely to knock the Ravens out of their #1 pass defense ranking, but they don’t truly belong there anyway. And more importantly, the majority of Orton’s yards came long after the Ravens had jumped out to a three-score lead and the game was well in hand.
Perhaps the most promising development of the game for Ravens fans and fantasy football players around the country was that Cam Cameron remembered he has Ray Rice on his team. Rice had 31 touches (27 carries, 4 receptions), 159 total yards and two touchdowns, showing that his bruised knee suffered against Cleveland is fully healed, and that, when “fed the rock,” Rice can be every bit the dominating back he was in 2009. Not only that, but he may (should) have taken Willis McGahee’s job as the goalline running back. On the aforementioned failure from just outside the Broncos end zone, McGahee was twice stopped dead at the line of scrimmage. When given the same opportunities later in the game, Rice was 2 for 2. Not to be completely outdone though, McGahee showed that he still has some home runs left in him, racing for a 31-yard touchdown scamper to round out the Ravens’ scoring.
As a team, the Ravens rushed for 233 yards, with McGahee totaling 67 and Le’Ron McClain adding 13 in addition to his crushing blocks opening holes for the other guys all day. Even Flacco got in on the act, showing Tim Tebow who’s boss, rushing for 20 yards on 5 carries, at least one of which was a designed quarterback draw. He ran with power, lowering his head and punishing Denver linebacker D.J. Williams on one play, and finesse, giving Renaldo Hill a Mike Vick-esque ball-fake and leaving the Broncos’ safety in the dust.
It was an encouraging thing to watch, as the running game showed up to carry the offense through a stretch during which, in most of the 2nd and 3rd quarter, Denver decided that they were going to do everything they could to stop the pass, and Flacco missed on 9 or 10 consecutive throws. Anquan Boldin had only one catch for 8 yards, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were largely invisible for most of the day…and the Ravens still won going away.
The balanced attack that we all know the Ravens have the potential to possess, with all their weapons complimenting one another beautifully, may be starting to materialize (although, after giving all of Baltimore a huge scare when he went down momentarily in the end zone, perhaps Haloti Ngata shouldn’t be used as one of those “weapons” too much going forward).
Also meriting mention was that the Ravens again played a very clean game. Their 5 penalties for 66 yards were dwarfed by the Broncos’ 10 for 90, on a day where the officiating crew on the field was the most flag-happy bunch in the league coming into the matchup. The Ravens have had fewer penalty yards than their opponent in every game so far in 2010, an encouraging sign that the days of undisciplined play costing the teams wins are now firmly in our rearview. John Harbaugh’s emphasis on proper technique and his practice of bringing in officials to watch training camp and practices seem to be paying very tangible dividends.
A final word on the game: Billy Cundiff = BEAST. Four of his six kickoffs on the day were touchbacks, and another was ran out from a few yards deep in the end zone. He has become a great Ace-in-the-hole for B’More’s special teams unit.
Some Ravens fans will be perturbed about losing the #1 pass defense ranking, but we need to get over that mindset as a fanbase. Think back to the New York Giants game in 2008, where they ran for nearly 300 yards on the Ravens, but some fans still hung their hat on the fact that no single Giant ran for more than 100 yards. The true irrelevance of the streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher was on full display that day, and Orton’s 314 yards Sunday are an equally empty statistic. Hanging our hat on #1 rankings and statistics are thing that we had to do when we had a team that ran hot-to-cold from one year to the next, a team that would contend one season and be doormats the following. With Harbaugh and Flacco, and the perennial contenders that they look like they are, and that we hope to have for years to come, a team that routinely dominates lesser teams, we can instead point to much more significant numbers: wins and losses.
Yes, it was Orton, not Flacco, who had the big “fantasy” day, throwing for over 300 yards and a couple touchdowns.
But whose team won the game? Whose team is currently 4-1?
The team in purple and black.
Recalibrate your expectations. Expect to win. When you win, you don’t have to pull out other numbers to convince yourself that your team is good. Point to the scoreboard. Point to the standings. That’s where the important numbers lie.
4-1 after three extremely tough road games and now with a half-game lead along with a head-to-head win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a full two game lead on the now 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. It’s a good place to be, much better than say, 3-2 with the #1 pass defense or #1 run defense or best turnover ratio or blah, blah, blah.