The 2013 season could not have started much worse for the Ravens.
In their first game since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy six months ago, the Ravens suffered a lopsided defeat to the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos dominated the second half and handed the Ravens a 49-27 loss to open the season.
"It was just one of those nights," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It was a pretty good game for a while and it got away from us."
The Ravens hurt themselves with too many mistakes and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning capitalized with an NFL-tying record seven touchdowns.
Rookie safety Brynden Trawick knocked starting receiver Jacoby Jones out of the game by crashing into him on a punt return in the second quarter. Tight end Dallas Clark dropped a pass at the end of the first half that would have likely been a touchdown. The Ravens missed a chance to challenge a key catch by Wes Welker that replay showed clearly hit the turf and was incomplete. They also had three personal foul penalties and gave up a blocked punt.
"The biggest issue that we had tonight is that we gave them too many easy things," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's just the bottom line. You can't give up that many easy plays."
When the Ravens made mistakes, the Broncos pounced. Manning moved the ball down the field at will in the second half, and the Ravens did not have an answer.
Manning spread the ball around to his receivers, tight ends and running backs, and he finished the day with 26-of-41 passing for 452 yards and seven touchdowns. Manning is the first quarterback to ever throw for seven touchdown passes against the Ravens, as no player had ever thrown for six against the Ravens previously.
Manning is also first player to throw seven touchdowns in a game since Joe Kapp did it in 1969* *against the Baltimore Colts.
It was a historically poor showing for the Ravens' rebuilt defense that drew high praise throughout training camp and the preseason. The unit allowed 510 yards of total offense and the most points in franchise history.
"We gave him too many things," Harbaugh said. "Too many open guys. Too many things where we just need to be better at communication early in the season."
The game was a tale of two halves for the Ravens, as they took a three-point lead into the locker room at halftime. Once the teams took the field in the second half, the Broncos took control.
Denver scored on its opening drive, then blocked a punt on the Ravens' second drive to set up another touchdown. The Ravens' lead quickly evaporated and soon the Broncos had 28 unanswered points to go up 42-17.
"They just started fast in that second half," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "They got that first drive, touchdown, and then we gave them a bunch of things and they were able to capitalize on our mistakes."
A turning point of the game came on the third play of the second half.
The Broncos were facing third down, and Manning connected with Welker for a first down. Replays showed the ball actually hit the turf, which would have led to a Denver punt, but the Broncos ran another play before the Ravens had a chance to challenge. Three plays later, Manning threw a touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell.
"It would have been nice if NBC had shown that," Harbaugh said about the challenge. "Then we would have had a chance to look at it."
After that touchdown to Caldwell, the Broncos got red-hot. They pushed the tempo and wore out the defense. The Ravens turned to the passing game to try to score fast and cut into the lead – Flacco threw a career high 62 times – but the Ravens couldn't climb out of the big hole.
Flacco finished the night 34-of-62 passing for 362 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"We just started the second half off really bad," Flacco said. "When you start the half off that badly, then you're trying to play catch up a little bit. It just didn't go well."
A lopsided loss to the Broncos in the regular season is not unfamiliar territory for the Ravens, as they fell to Denver 34-17 in Week 15 last year. They bounced back from that game and ended up winning the Super Bowl, and now the focus is to recover over the weekend and quickly turn their focus to the Week 2 matchup with Cleveland. "We've all been through this before," Flacco said. "We've played games like this and we've gotten beat like that. So I don't think we overreact. John is an experienced head coach and we've got enough guys on this team experienced with this type of thing that we'll know how to handle it."