On Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 the Ravens head to Sports Authority Field in Denver, Colorado to face a team that gave them a 34-17 drubbing less than a month ago in the normally Raven-friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium.
Drubbing. Rout. Blowout. That’s how the headlines read the morning after the Ravens last met the Broncos. And to be honest, the final score and many of the statistics support these statements.
A brief survey of playoff previews reveals that most contributors to the sports-information industrial complex do not think the Ravens will fare much better in the upcoming rematch in Denver. A good part of the evidence produced to support this conclusion points back to those headlines filled with the worst words in competitive sports: drubbing, rout, and blowout.
But is that what really happened in Week 15 in Baltimore? Certainly the score seems to indicate so, but the more I review the highlights and statistics the more I am convinced that the outcome was far more decided by the Ravens playing below their potential than the Broncos playing above theirs.
Don’t misunderstand me; I am not trying to diminish the Broncos’ performance against the Ravens or any other squad. Indeed, they have an excellent football team on both sides of the ball as indicated by a 13-3 regular season record. My point is that absent a few, admittedly major, mistakes the results could have been markedly different.
The first major mistake happened when Joe Flacco lost a fumble on a 3rd-and-1 QB sneak on the Ravens’ first possession. After the Ravens’ defense forced a quick three and out on Denver’s opening drive, this error deflated Flacco and company for the majority of the first half. The defense, however, picked up the slack and limited the high-powered Denver offense to a single field goal in the first quarter. The Lewis-, Webb- and Pollard-less defense continued to perform adequately in the second quarter allowing only one touchdown.
That’s when the roof really caved in. Finally getting their rhythm, the Ravens’ offense began marching down the field with 2-minutes remaining in the half (the Ravens were also set up to receive the 2nd half kickoff). Advancing all the way to the Denver 2-yard line with 30 seconds on the clock, Joe attempted a hurry-up play and served up a 98-yard pick six to the Bronco’s Chris Harris. So, instead of entering the locker room with a potential score of 10-7 (or worst case: 10-3), the Ravens started intermission with a 17-point deficit. We will never know how the game would have fared in either of those scenarios, but it likely could not have been worse.
Therefore, the prescription for the healthier Ravens when they travel to the Mile High City is relatively simple. They must limit their mistakes, clamp down on the run, and keep Manning off the field for as long as possible by winning the time of possession battle.
These will not be easy feats to accomplish – especially in a hostile environment (both geographically and meteorologically). The Ravens are in for an exceptionally tough battle in Denver this weekend, but their task is not impossible. They have the weapons to advance to the AFC Championship and beyond, they now need to believe they can. We saw a glimpse of this belief last week. Let’s hope the inspiration unleashed by Ray Lewis’ return is more than fleeting.
Saturday. 4:30pm (EST). Game time. Go Ravens!