This game would have to fall under the “shocker of the week” category. Nobody questioned the validity of the Baltimore Ravens, but at the same time nobody thought they could go up to Denver and take out the streaking Broncos in below-zero type weather. The obvious reason for this victory could have been the performance by Joe Flacco (who threw for 331 yards, three TDs, and no picks) and the stellar showing from the Baltimore defense, but you could also look at pair of other things that factored into the decision of this game: the conservative approach from John Fox and the Denver defensive collapse.
Firstly, did anyone find it odd how the Broncos chose to end the first half and regulation periods? At the end of the first half, Denver had :35 left and a full complement of timeouts to work with. Although they were at their own 20 yard line, one would think that you give Peyton Manning a shot with the option of being able to stop the clock three times down the stretch. If once wasn’t enough, how about at the end of the fourth quarter when the Broncos had two timeouts and :31 seconds (again from the 20). You’ve got to believe that Peyton Manning could at least try and make something happen in that limited amount of time. Just look at what the Falcons did in 17 seconds; it is easy to say that #18 had a shot at doing the same thing. When all is considered, Denver could have put up just a field goal and prevented this game from going to overtime (where they would eventually lose).
The other thing that lead to defeat was the defensive collapse of the Broncos. Public enemy #1 could have been Champ Bailey, who struggled to stop the speed demon in Torrey Smith from taking the top off of the defense. Smith beat him on a few occasions for a couple of touchdowns. Obviously, the older Bailey could not run with the young talent and thus, the Broncos had to get some safety help for him. This strategy worked for a while because Smith was held without a catch in the second half, but on the final drive from Baltimore (during regulation) the Denver defense came undone. With just :38 left in the game, Flacco heaved up a 70 yard TD pass to tie the game. Jacoby Jones beat Tony Carter clean off the line of scrimmage and got behind even the safety Rahim Moore. Nobody laid a finger on him to disrupt the route in what can be considered an inexcusable breakdown of coverage and assignment. Let’s face it: what Joe Flacco did was key in the Ravens victory but it could not have been made possible without a generous assist from the Denver defense.
Lost in the action was how well the Baltimore defense played. They only gave up 21 points (since 14 of the Broncos’ tallies were courtesy of big returns from Trindon Holliday). Also, to shut Peyton Manning out in the final 23:53 of the game was impressive. The strong defensive effort cannot be discounted and another one like it up in Foxboro will be greatly needed if the Ravens hope to make a return to the Super Bowl. For now, this team can feel good about knocking off a clear Lombardi favorite as they march on to their second straight AFC Championship game versus New England.