By the time the Ravens defense left the Mile High City, the Broncos were feeling pretty low.
Baltimore had its best defensive effort of the season during a 23-7 victory over the previously undefeated Broncos, in a complete game from a defense that had been looking for this kind of statement.
It was an impressive and punishing performance as Baltimore had five sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and knocked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of the game with a concussion just before halftime.
Much of the talk entering the game centered around Denver's defense, which entered the game yielding an NFL-low 8.6 points per game. But it was the Ravens' defense, which entered the game ranked 26th with 28.3 points allowed per game, that stole the spotlight, shutting out Denver in the second half.
"Our defense did a phenomenal job aside from two drives and a couple of big plays," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "The pass rush was really good. I've got to give the pass rush a lot of credit, off the edges and inside. We were able to get the quarterbacks down and that's a big deal. I thought the pass rush was really relentless and I was proud of those guys. It probably started with the coverage. When they were forced to hold the ball just a little bit, we were able to get to them."
Bridgewater was engulfed by the Ravens' pass rush and backup quarterback Drew Lock was equally harassed in the second half. The pressure came from everywhere, as Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale kept dialing up blitzes and the Ravens kept meeting at the quarterback. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser had two sacks, Justin Madubuike, Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh had one sack apiece, and Calais Campbell had three quarterback hits.
Denver scored first to take a 7-0 lead, but Baltimore's defense slammed the door after that. The Broncos' scoring drive featured a 33-yard run by Javonte Williams, on which he broke several tackles and took Marlon Humphrey on a ride before he was finally brought down.
But the tackling issues that plagued the Ravens during their first three games disappeared after Williams' long run. Nickel cornerback Tavon Young had a crushing hit on wide receiver Diontae Spencer that knocked him out of the game. The Ravens were flying to the football, gang-tackling ballcarriers, and Denver's running attack was eventually stymied. Then, when the Broncos fell behind and turned to the air, their quarterbacks paid the price.
"We always talk about sacks come in bunches, and this was one of those games," Bowser said. "Just attack. Stop second guessing. Just go out and play. Continue to keep our heads down and work.
"We've been through a lot with guys going down. But we have a lot of guys who have worked hard to put themselves on this team. We believe in those guys. Whoever's up next, those guys are going to come out and play."
It was fitting that the final defensive play was made by cornerback Anthony Averett, who made a leaping interception in the end zone to kill Denver's final drive. The outcome had already been decided, but the Broncos were driving for a feel-good touchdown and Averett wasn't in the mood to let that happen.
Averett was questionable to play due to an ankle injury that kept him from practicing Friday. The Ravens have been hit hard at outside corner with season-ending injuries to Marcus Peters, Chris Westry and Khalil Dorsey, and Averett knew the Ravens needed him to play. Harbaugh appreciated the effort, and when the Broncos attacked him, Averett answered the challenge.
"He sucked it up a little bit," Harbaugh said. "He had an ankle roll, it wasn't nothing. He fought to get back and played a great football game. Our defensive backs played outstanding. Those receivers and those tight ends are as good as any in the league. They're big, physical possession receivers. Our defensive backs, our safeties and linebackers at times did a great job."
The Ravens (3-1) are riding a three-game winning streak, and now their defense looks like it's rounding into form. Campbell was particularly happy that the defense performed so well in a return to his hometown in front of family and friends.
"We knew it was going to take our best ball," Campbell said. "We know what our defense can be. The time is now. I think it was a good showing."