“Last time, our defense played really well against these guys, and we have to let them go do their thing, and we have to go do our thing,” Flacco said. “I think just as always, our goal is to go in and score touchdowns. Obviously, they have a high-powered offense and can score at a pretty high rate.”
The Ravens will try their best to move the ball efficiently with the duo of Pro Bowl veteran Ray Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce in the backfield to control the time of possession and keep Manning and the Denver offense off the field. One of their biggest problems in that first half back in December was an inability to run the football as Denver held the Ravens to only 41 yards on 14 rushing attempts. The inefficiency on first and second down led the Ravens to go 0-for-6 on third down in the first 30 minutes.
Even so, the Ravens had the opportunity to make it a 10-7 or 10-3 deficit before Flacco stared down Boldin at the goal line. The turnover eliminated any feasible shot as the air was sucked out of M&T Bank Stadium in a matter of 15 seconds.
“Before that turnover, that’s when the turn of events happened with guys out,” Rice said. “We aren’t going to make any excuses, but I don’t want to go into that game letting their defense dictate how we play ball.”
Denver holds the advantage of extra rest, but the Ravens like the momentum they gained in a strong second half against the Colts and like their improved state of health this time around against the Broncos even more. In addition to the return of three defensive starters, the presence of Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson — who were both out in Week 15 — should pay dividends in the running game and pass protection.
Even if the many critics insist on overlooking how many players were missing in action when the teams’ first meeting eventually got out of hand, the idle Broncos took notice of the Ravens holding the Colts without a touchdown while also producing 441 total yards of offense.
“There’s no question that every team wants to have their starters in there, and Baltimore got healthy at the right time,” Manning said. “It definitely made a difference for them in the playoff game on Sunday.”
We know the Ravens are far from a perfect team and the numbers support that. The offense has shown improvements — against defenses that are a far cry from Denver’s formidable unit — but still struggles to play a complete 60 minutes. A defense that has been described ad nauseam as a “bend but don’t break” unit will face a tall order in trying to stop Manning, even in the cold and potentially snowy conditions at Mile High.
The Broncos are the better overall team, but Baltimore only needs to find a way to be better for one game on Saturday to advance to the AFC Championship. The playoff-tested Ravens aren’t painting themselves as a team intending to repeat the miserable performance in Baltimore last month, and they have more favorable circumstances in their corner for this one.
Will it all be enough against Manning and the mighty Broncos?
“They have a very hot streak going right now,” Lewis said. “Arguably, they are the best team in football. If that’s what it is, then let’s line up and let’s be who we are, and let’s get ready to play the best team in football.”