Broncos vs Ravens: Baltimore's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
It's crazy to think that just two weeks ago, the Ravens had won 15 consecutive home games and controlled their destiny in the hunt for a first-round bye. Because this team that played today looks absolutely nothing like a playoff contender, let alone a serious Super Bowl threat.
The red-hot Denver Broncos won their ninth straight game with a 34-17 win over the Ravens. It was the Ravens' biggest home loss since December 2007 where they lost by 24 points to the Indianapolis Colts.
Not coincidentally, Peyton Manning was the quarterback for both teams. Despite struggling statistically against the Ravens, Manning still owns them and has now won nine straight against Baltimore.
Today he wasn't particularly great as he went 17-for-28 for 204 passing yards and one touchdown. The main difference, though, came in the quality of the two teams. The Broncos were vastly better than the Ravens in nearly every statistical category, so much so that the 17-point victory is a little misleading.
With the exception of two drives punctuated by Dennis Pitta touchdowns, the Ravens offense was awful in their first week without Cam Cameron calling plays. Joe Flacco's slump is showing no signs of ending, and today he contributed two turnovers that led to 10 points for the Broncos.
There aren't a lot of them, but several Ravens players deserve credit for playing hard despite the circumstances. Many more Ravens deserve to be called out for not doing their part and allowing this game to be the biggest home loss in the Harbaugh era.
Here's the Ravens winners and losers from Week 15.
Winner: Jacoby Jones
The injuries keep coming for the Ravens, and they were hurt even more when Torrey Smith left for the locker room with a concussion. In Smith's place, though, Jacoby Jones showed some resilience, as he essentially became the other starting receiver.
Jones finished the day with three grabs for 51 yards. Almost all of it came on a beautiful 43-yard catch late in the second quarter. The catch had gotten the Ravens in field-goal range, and had Joe Flacco protected the ball, it could have led to a momentum-building field goal, or even a touchdown.
Besides that, Jones really didn't do much else, catching the ball with only two catches for eight yards. He does deserve credit for having another good game returning the ball. Jones averaged 28 yards on his four kick returns, and he returned the second-half kickoff back 50 yards.
Jones has repeatedly shown that he's a threat to take the ball back whenever he's returning the ball. With two kick return touchdowns and 863 return yards, Jones has a very good chance at being voted to his first Pro Bowl this season.
Loser: Ray Rice
One week after his best game of the 2012 season, Ray Rice went on to have one of his worst of the year. Rice had only 38 rushing yards coming on 12 attempts. He also had three receptions, but failed to pick up more than a yard on any of them.
Obviously Jim Caldwell listened to the fanbase's concern about Rice not getting the ball enough. Fifteen touches is a decent amount, but Rice just didn't do anything today. A lot of that blame has to go on the offensive line, which provided almost no running lanes whatsoever.
Not surprisingly, the Ravens had to abandon the run early in the second half thanks to the Broncos' domination on offense. While the run-pass ratio wasn't that bad today, the Ravens need to have more success on the ground, particularly with the slump Joe Flacco is in.
Both Rice and the offensive line need to get on the same page for there to be any hope of the Ravens playing late into January.
Winner: Dennis Pitta
On what was an off day for the pass offense, Dennis Pitta put on a career performance. He had 125 receiving yards and accounted for both the team's receiving touchdowns.
Granted, both Pitta touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, and they were essentially in garbage time. It's also very much worth noting that Pitta had two terrible drops in the first half when the game was still in reach.
All the touchdowns did basically was make the loss a little less embarrassing. That's a shame too, because a player like Pitta deserves to shine in a game where his touchdowns would actually mean something.
With 10 targets today, Pitta led the team in that department, and if the Torrey Smith injury lasts several games, Pitta could become Joe Flacco's go-to target. He's been hot at points this season with eight games of five or more receptions. He's also been very cold with seven games that he's had 33 or less receiving yards.
Get the inconsistency issues worked out, and Pitta could be an elite tight end. He's got 613 receiving yards, and he's tied Smith for the team lead with seven receiving touchdowns. Hopefully, this game can continue to lead to a more expanded role in the offense for Pitta.
Loser: Offensive Line
It would seem a little too harsh to point out one offensive lineman for that unit's struggles today. They all played poorly, and every one of them deserves blame for the line's collective struggles.
The Broncos pass-rushers had three sacks, although oddly, Von Miller did not have any. Michael Oher was beaten on back-to-back sacks at the conclusion of the game.
Matt Birk cost the team with an offensive holding penalty that negated a 15-yard run by Bernard Pierce. This was the first drive where the Ravens got a first down, and ultimately, the penalty sucked all the momentum out of the drive.
Bobbie Williams got the start in place of Marshal Yanda, and he was awful as well. He was completely unable to stop the pass rush and was routinely beaten by his man. Same goes for Jah Reid and Kelechi Osemele, who also were completely dominated by the Broncos defensive line.
Joe Flacco's struggles can be partially attributed to the line's awful play, as can Ray Rice's inability to get anything going in the running game. These guys really need Marshal Yanda back, while Oher and Reid are both playing like they want to sit on the bench. Do the Ravens have that much to lose by allowing Bryant McKinnie and Gino Gradkowski to have some playing time?
Winner: Josh Bynes
Josh Bynes actually did a decent job as the middle linebacker with the headset. Thanks to injuries to Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain, Bynes got his first career start.
Bynes went on to lead the team with 13 total tackles. He kept fighting hard even as the game grew increasingly out of hand. It's definitely an impressive start for a undrafted free agent, and although the Ravens want their tackling leaders back, they might yet be in good shape with Bynes starting.
Some other defensive players who deserve shoutouts for positive performance are Pernell McPhee and Albert McClellan. Both players brought the pressure and ended up sacking Peyton Manning once.
Loser: Cary Williams
Most of the damage done in the receiving game was done by Eric Decker. He finished with eight catches for 133 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Cary Williams was the main guy responsible for covering him, and for most of the day, he was not winning the matchup. Still, it wasn't till late in the game that Decker finally beat Williams for his score of the day.
The 51-yard touchdown reception was the Broncos' longest offensive play and Williams made it abundantly clear that he quit on the play. Williams stopped running and instead let Decker go in for the touchdown.
This wasn't a huge loss because even in a best-case scenario, Decker is down at about the Ravens' 1-yard line. It's just very discouraging to see Williams quit, particularly since he's an inconsistent player who can make a game-turning interception one week and then give up a long touchdown the next.
Were it not for quitting on the touchdown, Williams could have potentially been listed as one of the winners. He broke up two possible scores, including one against Demaryius Thomas in the end zone. Williams also did deflect a pass away from Decker after he was beat for the touchdown.
Loser: Joe Flacco
Cam Cameron is no longer here to receive the blame for when Joe Flacco plays poorly. With only one week to implement his system, Jim Caldwell can't be blamed yet either.
So this loss and his consequent awful performance today has to fall on Flacco's shoulders. His interception to Chris Harris late in the second quarter was a microcosm of the game, if not the entire season.
The pass was hurried up as the second quarter was quickly coming to a close. Flacco was so stubbornly determined to get the ball to Anquan Boldin on that play that he wouldn't take no for an answer. So then Harris jumps the pass and is off to the races, with Flacco unable to get a touchdown-preventing tackle.
Flacco did get two touchdowns and actually had more passing yards than Peyton Manning with his 240 passing yards. It's no consolation, though, especially with Flacco's awful fumble on a quarterback sneak and the game-changing interception.
His turnover problem could very well lead to the undoing of the Ravens. Flacco has now fumbled in three straight games, and he's at least partially to blame for all three losses.
With his confidence shaken and his embattled former offensive coordinator gone, Flacco can't have any excuses. He's got to step up his play level and lead the offensive of a team that is increasingly damaged by injuries. If not, this team is losing first round of the playoffs, if not missing them entirely.