Five thoughts on the Ravens' 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos Thursday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
Let's Not Sugar Coat ThisNo matter what they said beforehand, the Ravens knew they were in a tough spot Thursday night, on the road against a top-notch team that had waited eight months for a chance to exact revenge, with a Hall of Fame quarterback leading the way. In other words, there was a decent chance things wouldn't go their way. But they never expected the night to go this far awry. Their receivers dropped a bevy of passes. They allowed a blocked punt for the first time since 2009. They were hit with three personal fouls. They couldn't really run the ball or consistently pass protect. They gave up more points than the Ravens had ever allowed in a game. It's just one loss early in the season, but let's not sugar coat it. If not for that boneheaded play by Denver's Danny Trevathan, who blew a pick-six by dropping the ball on the ground too soon, the Broncos would have surpassed the 50-point barrier. That's not a wake-up call for the reigning Super Bowl champs. That's a fire alarm.
Expected More From New Defense
This game was up for grabs at halftime, with the Ravens ahead by three points, before Denver's Peyton Manning torched the Ravens defense in the final 30 minutes, finishing with seven touchdown passes, truly an avalanche. There were coverage issues throughout the secondary, as Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham and Michael Huff all experienced a variety of troubles and gave up touchdowns. Only Lardarius Webb survived unscathed, as Manning seldom threw his way. There's no shame in losing on the road by a quarterback like Manning, but like many observers, I expected a lot more from the Ravens' reconfigured defense. The front seven did a decent job, stopped the run and put pressure on Manning at times, but not consistently enough to stop him from having plenty of time to find the receivers roaming free throughout the secondary – a sign of communication problems. Rest assured, it will be a long week of practice for that unit.
Flacco Seemed Alone
The biggest question mark about the Ravens coming into this season was whether Joe Flacco had enough viable targets, and this game will not quiet that chatter. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones were effective early, but once Jones went out with a knee sprain, Smith was smothered until late in the game. Otherwise, Ed Dickson dropped four passes and looked out of synch with Flacco. Brandon Stokley struggled to gain separation. Dallas Clark also struggled to gain separation at times and dropped what would have been a huge touchdown catch just before halftime. Rookie Marlon Brown was a bright spot with four catches in his pro debut, including one for a touchdown. But the receivers weren't the only problem on offense. The running game was tepid. The pass protection leaked, especially after Michael Oher went out with an ankle injury, thrusting rookie Rick Wagner into the spotlight. I thought Flacco played relatively well given all that. Running for his life and trying to make plays, he almost seemed alone against the world at times.
Can't Blame The Non-Challenge
I know how these things work. Some people are going to blame the loss on the refs missing a call on Denver's first series of the second half, giving Wes Welker a catch on a third-down pass that clearly hit the ground when viewed on replay. The Broncos trailed by three points at the time and would have punted, but instead, they earned a first down, went on to score a touchdown, blocked a punt, and began to pour it on. Sure, it would have been great if Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh had challenged the call, as he often does, but he said after the game that he knew nothing about the refs' mistake. And while the right call there surely would have helped, the Ravens made far too many mistakes on this night to lateral any of the blame anywhere else.
Ravens Will Take Playoff Win
This was a crusade game for the Broncos. The memory of last season's playoff loss still stings and always will. A Denver columnist wrote Thursday morning of the possibility of Baltimore winning again, "Let's not think about it. Lose to the Ravens again and the sun might be told to stay home because Friday would be cancelled in Colorado." Ravens fans can relate: in 2011 their team opened the season at home against the Steelers just months after losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens were amped beyond measure; the game meant more to them and it showed as the Ravens won easily. Finding themselves on the flip side now, they held up well for a half before getting steamrolled, much as they steamrolled Pittsburgh in 2011. But while expunging ghosts is satisfying, there's a certain hollowness to it. Just as the Ravens would rather have won the playoff game in 2010 than the rematch in 2011, the Broncos surely would rather have won last January's playoff game than Thursday night's rematch. If a split is in the cards, the Ravens will take the playoff miracle any day.