From the game’s very first snap, you got the feeling that the Ravens were sick of it. Sick of letting near victories slip through their fingers in the final minutes of games. Sick of putting the game in the hands of the officials. Sick of hearing about how their defense had “gotten old” and was no longer a dominating unit. And just plain sick – of – losing.
And so it was, on that first snap, that Jarret Johnson came unblocked from Kyle Orton’s front side and blew him up with an 8-yard sack that was very reminiscent of Bart Scott-on-Baby Ben to Ravens fans. From that moment on, Orton NEVER looked comfortable in the game, and after a few more nasty hits on him by the rejuvenated B’More defense, he was pussy-footing in the pocket and you knew that this game was over, even if the scoreboard was yet to reflect the dominance the Ravens had brought to the table.
Double-J set the tone, but plenty of other Ravens’ defenders would soon get in on the act as well. Ed “Purple Blur” Reed was a man possessed, flying all over the field like the #20 of old, knocking Broncos’ helmets off, forcing fumbles, and nearly blocking punts. Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata were collapsing the pocket more effectively than they have all season. Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce were beating Denver’s tackles like rented mules. Rookie Dannell Ellerbe played well, and even the much maligned Chris Carr got on the stat sheet with a sack late in the game.
Speaking of Reed’s near-miss on the punt, though – we could watch every football game, on every level from Pop Warner to the NFL…and NEVER again see a punt go right through a players’ arms as Mitch Berger’s 2nd attempt did to Reed on Sunday. Add that to Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs BOTH dropping sure interceptions (and likely pick-6’s) and Ravens fans started to get a foreboding feeling that, despite the fire our club was playing with…it just was not meant to be our day. Add on the ridiculous non-call that led to Derrick Mason’s tantrum and subsequent 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the phantom pass interference on Dominique Foxworth (which the official 5 yards from the play did NOT see fit to penalize, yet somehow the gentleman trailing the play 30 or more yards away did, and IS ALLOWED TO – seriously, how is this possible?) and it seemed inevitable that the Ravens would again lose by the skin of their teeth to an undefeated team.
However, this was not to be a repeat of Minnesota. Rookie Lardarius Webb proved what we all suspected, that he SHOULD BE the kick returner for the Ravens, by breaking a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown on the first play of the second half, and in doing so turned the Ravens’ tenuous 6-0 lead into a much more poignant 13-0 version.
In the end, the good guys in purple would never trail, as all 3 phases of the game came to play for Baltimore, and a win in which the entire team played a part was the result.
Despite struggling early against the Broncos’ #1-scoring defense, the Ravens continued to stick to their game plan of short passes and runs to all parts of the field, and wore down Mike Nolan’s strong unit in the second half. This was a bit of a pleasant surprise, as the Broncos had dominated every second half they had been involved in through their first six contests.
Joe Flacco cares not for your prior successes. Flacco completed his final 14 passes, including each of the 10 he attempted in the final two quarters. The Ravens were 6/8 on 3rd downs in the second half, triple the amount of conversions Denver had allowed in the entire season to that point. Joe Cool finished a very cool 20/25 for 175 yards and one beautiful touchdown strike to Derrick Mason that sealed the game with 13 minutes to play. Flacco displayed his continually improving elusiveness and pocket presence, which was on full display as he dumped the ball off to Ray Rice for positive yardage even has he had All-World Safety Brian Dawkins hanging off of him like a Christmas ornament. His 80% completion percentage tied him with Elvis Grbac for best in a single game in Ravens history.
Ray Rice gained 84 yards on 23 carries, and Le’Ron “PAIN TRAIN” McClain got into the action in the 4th quarter, adding 3 carries for 31 yards, as the Ravens became the first team in 2009 to break the 100-yard barrier against the Rocky Mountain Horsies. Willis McGahee had 3 touches for 3 total yards, and at this point it just looks like Willis is in slow motion after watching Ray Rice for the past several weeks.
It wasn’t just the aforementioned Webb getting the job done on special teams. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give big props to Sam Koch, Steve Hauschka (3/3 FGs, several kickoffs in the end zone), Prescott Burgess (4 ST tackles), and the rest of the units that so impressively held Denver return man Eddie Royal in check. Royal, who scored TDs on both kickoff and punt returns a few weeks back against San Diego, had no room on either type of return Sunday, as the Broncos were consistently pinned inside their own 30 yard line.
And what of Mr. Brandon Marshall, who was supposedly going to give the Ravens’ secondary all sorts of fits, and have flashbacks of Sidney Rice and Vincent Jackson haunting the dreams of Ravens fans? B-Marsh had all of 4 catches for 24 yards, and short-armed several (T.O.-Style) once he realized the nature of the beast that he was on the field with. Also, as we alluded to here last week, Kyle Orton is NOT Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, or Philip Rivers. The Ravens put out the blueprint on how to beat Denver – unfortunately, their next opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens must build off yesterday’s win, as they now face a Cincinnati Bengals team who is atop the AFC North standings, and who will be coming off the bye of their own. That Denver-Pit game will have much more significance to us here in Charm City if the Ravens can go into the Jungle and exact some revenge on Marvin Lewis & Co.