Broncos vs. Ravens: Denver's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
In a game with serious playoff implications, the Broncos managed to do something they had never done before.
They beat the Ravens in Baltimore.
They started slow, but soon the flood gates opened, and Denver dominated the Ravens on their own home field and won the game 34-17.
This win pushed the Broncos' win streak to nine games and makes them 11-3 on the season with a chance to earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the Broncos' big win today against the Ravens.
The Broncos had never won in Baltimore against the Ravens.
Not only had they failed to win, they really hadn't kept it very close: In five visits Denver had been outscored 142-56.
But all of that is ancient history now.
The Broncos jumped on Baltimore early and never let up.
Are the Ravens fighting through injures? Sure. They are banged up without question.
But to the Broncos' credit, they beat them big and handed them their third loss in a row.
Winner: Rahim Moore
Rahim Moore is starting to live up to the potential he had shown flashes of in his young career.
He now has 59 tackles and an interception on the season. More importantly, he is starting to become a playmaker.
On the Ravens' opening drive, they faced a third down and one yard to go at the Broncos' 45-yard line.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco appeared to pick up the first down, but Justin Bannan knocked the football loose, and Moore made a big recovery.
The turnover stopped the drive and gave Denver some early momentum.
Loser: Demaryius Thomas
I'm a big Demaryius Thomas fan. He has the size and skills to be one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.
But there's no question that D.T. struggled today.
He had one pass go right through his hands. On a 3rd-and-5, he ran a four-yard in route and was tackled short of the first down marker. He finished the game with just four catches for 13 yards.
The top wide receivers in the NFL have to know where they are on the field. He needs to make more plays in a game as big as this one.
Winner: The Offensive Line
Give a lot of credit to the big boys up front.
Sure, Peyton Manning was sacked twice, but on both sacks he had plenty of time.
Manning finished the game with 17/28 for 204 yards and a touchdown.
But the story of the game was the Denver running game.
The Broncos rushed the ball 45 times for 163 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, Dan Koppen, Manny Ramirez, Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark dominated the line of scrimmage.
And this was without starting right guard Chris Kuper.
Loser: Mike McCoy's Early Offense
The Broncos were absolutely dominating the game early on.
The defense was shutting down the Ravens offense. The Ravens had just 22 yards in the first quarter.
The Broncos had five possessions and just three points.
What makes it worse is that Denver had the benefit of very good field position. In the first quarter their average starting position was their own 34-yard line.
You have the No. 4 ranked offense, Mike.
You should have been up by more than a field goal.
Winner: The Defensive Line
The game is won in the trenches. This old cliche was never more evident than today.
We have already covered the job that the offensive line did today.
This defensive line just dominated the Ravens, and quarterback Joe Flacco may have nightmares for the next few nights.
They completely bottled up running back Ray Rice. Rice finished the game with 12 carries for 38 yards and never seemed comfortable.
Flacco wound up going 20-of-40 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
He was only sacked three times, but he was hit and hurried more than a dozen times.
Robert Ayers, Derek Wolfe, Elvis Dumervil, Justin Bannan, Mitch Unrein, Kevin Vickerson and of course Von Miller carried the day.
Loser: Tony Carter
The four-year veteran cornerback out of Florida State has been a great story for the Broncos all season, but he got roughed up today.
First, he gave up a 43-yard pass to Jacoby Jones in the second quarter.
Then he was called for a pass interference penalty in the third quarter.
Finally, he finished with a really poor attempted tackle on Raven tight end Dennis Pitta in which Pitta ran through Carter's arms and scored a 61-yard touchdown pass.
It will not be a pleasant day in the film room for Mr. Carter this week.
Winner: Eric Decker
Eric Decker had a huge day for the Broncos.
With eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown, he seemed to be open whenever Denver needed a big play.
Decker has had a nice season but seemed to be struggling in Weeks 10, 11, 12 and 13 when he caught just 10 balls for 119 yards.
In the past two weeks, Decker has 16 catches for 221 yards.
Decker is red hot right now.
Loser: Special Teams
The Broncos special teams coverage units have been very inconsistent all season, and today was no exception.
In fact, here is a statistic that sums up how bad the kick coverage was today.
Punter Britton Colquitt and kicker Matt Prater combined for THREE tackles today.
That's never a good sign.
The Broncos allowed 196 yards in kickoff and punt returns today. Add a missed 45 yard field goal by Prater, plus explosive returner Trindon Holliday had six punt returns for just 33 yards. He did put the ball on the ground again, although it rolled out of bounds.
The Denver special teams unit did not bring their A game today.
Winner: Chris Harris
Was there a bigger play in today's game than Chris Harris' 98-yard interception return for a touchdown?
The Broncos held a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter when the Ravens offense mounted its first real drive of the day.
First Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones for a 43-yard pass to the Denver 34-yard line.
After two effective runs, Flacco threw to tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Torrey Smith, and suddenly Baltimore was at the Broncos' 4-yard line.
With less than a minute remaining, it looked like the Ravens would be cutting the Denver lead to 10-7 going in at halftime.
And then Chris Harris made the biggest play of the game.
Flacco looked to throw a quick out pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin at the 2-yard line.
Reading Flacco's eyes Harris read the pattern, jumped the route, and outran a flailing Flacco as he returned the ball 98 yards and made the score 17-0 at the halfway point.
The 98-yard return broke the record for longest interception return by a Bronco. It snapped Randy Gradishar's 93-yard return record that had stood since 1980.
It also gave all the momentum back to Denver and took the air out of the home crowd.