Ravens vs. Broncos: Denver's Biggest Winners and Losers from Divisional Playoff

Clint DalyContributor IIJanuary 12, 2013

Ravens vs. Broncos: Denver's Biggest Winners and Losers from Divisional Playoff

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    You can take a breath now. It's over.

    The game is over.

    The season is over.

    The Baltimore Ravens came into frigid Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium and outlasted the Denver Broncos, beating Denver 38-35 to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

    This was a heavyweight fight with both teams throwing punches and landing plenty.

    But in the end, it was the Ravens who were left standing.

    This game may be remembered by Broncos fans as a game of missed opportunities and errors.

    Denver led 35-28 with just over 30 seconds remaining.

    But the Ravens made the plays down the stretch, and the Broncos faltered.

    So, who are the winners and losers from Saturday's playoff game?

Winner: Broncos Fans

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    I know Bronco fans are unquestionably feeling horrible right now, and understandably so, but Mile High Stadium was rocking Saturday.

    That isn't exactly breaking news, but with the weather conditions considered, it is still impressive.

    Braving subzero temperatures and snow, the Broncos faithful were loud and proud while enduring one of the longest playoff games in NFL history.

    The stadium was insanely loud, and by just watching the game on television, you would never know how cold it was. The home fans supported their Broncos and gave them as much energy as possible.

    You did your job, Broncos fans.

Loser: The Officials

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    Lets make one thing clear: This isn't sour grapes. The officials did NOT cost the Broncos the game.

    They did, however, have a horrible outing.

    From the inconsistent pass interference calls to the replay reviews, it was difficult to figure out what they would call next.

    Even the CBS announcing crew of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf seemed to be confused as to many of their calls.

    On reviews when the replay seemed to be pretty clear, it was anyone's guess as to what Bill Vinovich and his team might call.

    How did this group get postseason work?

Winner: Ronnie Hillman

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    Ronnie Hillman is probably not an every-down NFL back, but when starting running back Knowshon Moreno went down with an injury, he had to become one.

    Hillman was forced into full-time duty and did an admirable job.

    He finished the game with 22 carries for 83 yards and had a few runs that he looked close to breaking long gains on. He also caught three passes for 20 yards.

    Hillman's problem continues to be pass protection and ball security.

    But he definitely made sure to cover the football Saturday in traffic and ran hard every time he touched it.

Loser: The Pass Rush

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    Where was the Broncos vaunted pass rush Saturday?

    A defense that logged a league-leading 52 sacks this season managed just one sack Saturday.

    One sack in a game that went nearly six quarters.

    They only hit Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco three times total.

    I think we all know that Flacco is capable of making poor plays when under duress.

    But Saturday, Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns without a single interception.

    If that wasn't bad enough the Broncos also allowed Ravens running back Ray Rice to rush for 126 yards and a touchdown.

    Did the defensive backs get beat? Sure.

    But Flacco had plenty of time to throw due to the lack of a pass rush.

    The defensive line was MIA for most of the day.

Winner: Brandon Stokely

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    For a man that was out of football a year ago, Brandon Stokley was still effective Saturday, catching three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.

    Stokley had a very solid return to football this season with 45 catches for 544 yards and five touchdowns.

    His 15-yard diving touchdown catch was beautiful.

    Stokley also had a catch in overtime when he came back to scrape the ball off the frozen turf and showed that he is still more than capable of making clutch plays.

Loser: John Fox and the Coaching Staff

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    The Broncos had the look all game of trying NOT to lose.

    No aggressiveness on either side of the ball.

    In the third quarter with the Broncos holding a 28-21 lead, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fumbled the snap and Broncos linebacker Keith Brooking recovered the loose ball at the Broncos 43-yard line.

    Surely a high powered offense with Peyton Manning is going to take a shot and look to capitalize on this opportunity, right?

    Nope. 

    The Denver offense struggled to gain just a single first down and punted the ball back.

    In fact, the offense faced numerous 2nd-and-short opportunities, yet they stayed vanilla and only ran the ball, never even trying to attempt anything off of play action in those situations.

    When the Ravens tied the game late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos had 31 seconds and two timeouts to try to get into field-goal range.

    They opted instead to play it safe and kneel on the ball to go to overtime instead.

    You do know you have one of the top offenses in the league, right?

    Playing not to lose cost the Broncos dearly Saturday, and it appeared to start at the top.

Winner: Chris Harris

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    Chris Harris turned out to be a steal for the Denver Broncos last season.

    Harris signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State and has proven to have a knack for making big plays.

    Harris broke up four passes Saturday and nearly intercepted one of them.

    He was one of the few bright spots on a defensive unit that struggled most of the day.

    Harris has had a spectacular sophomore season, logging 51 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions. 

    He returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns.

Loser: Rahim Moore

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    Broncos fans have seen "The Drive."

    We have witnessed "The Drive Part Two."

    We all remember "The Fumble."

    Now we have "The Whiff."

    With the Broncos maintaining a 35-28 lead, the Ravens faced a 3rd-and-3 from their own 30-yard line.

    With just over a minute to play, Joe Flacco launched a deep pass for wide receiver Jacoby Jones down the right sideline.

    With the pass in the air, Broncos safety Rahim Moore positioned himself for what could have been a game-ending interception.

    The only problem was that Moore was playing far too shallow and took a terrible angle at the flight of the ball. Even if he had allowed Jones to catch it and tackled him in bounds, the Ravens would have been down to one play to try to score.

    Instead, he completely whiffed on the pass and Jones caught it in stride for the game-tying touchdown.

    No one player wins a game or loses a game.

    Moore just made a poor play at the worst possible time. 

    And it is one that will haunt Broncos fans' dreams for the next seven months.

Winner: Trindon Holliday

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    Say what you will about the Broncos Saturday...Trindon Holliday brought his A-game.

    After sitting out the final regular-season game, Holliday came back with a vengeance.

    Following the Ravens initial drive of the game, Baltimore punter Sam Koch drove Holliday back to his own 10-yard line with a 52-yard punt.

    Holliday broke it down the sideline for a 90-yard touchdown.

    He did it again to start the second half, returning the opening kickoff for 104 yards and another touchdown.

    Holliday finished the game with six returns for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

    He was so dangerous that nearing the end of the third quarter the Ravens opted to squib kick the ball and allow the Broncos to take possession near their own 30-yard line instead of giving him another chance at a big return.

    Since being signed earlier in the season, Holliday has been very exciting on kick and punt returns.

    He was amazing Saturday.

Loser: Peyton Manning

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    Quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame.

    That goes with the territory of being an NFL starting quarterback.

    And while the 2012 Denver Broncos season will be remembered for many victories, it ended with a thud.

    The Peyton Manning experiment was without a doubt a major success.

    The Broncos won five more games in 2012 and nearly had the division won by Thanksgiving.

    But you are only as good as your last game, and Manning looked to be pressing Saturday.

    He finished the game 28-of-43 for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He was also sacked three times, threw two interceptions and fumbled once.

    Late in the first overtime period, Manning had a 2nd-and-6 from the Denver 38-yard line. Flushed from the pocket, he rolled to his right and then threw back across his body to a well-covered Brandon Stokley.

    Ravens cornerback Corey Graham intercepted his second pass of the day and gave the Ravens the ball already in Denver territory.

    One first down later, and the Ravens kicked the game-winning field goal.

    Of all quarterbacks in the NFL, Manning knows better than to make that play.

    Yet, as I stated earlier, he did seem to be pressing.

    The Denver offense scored just 21 points Saturday, nine points under their average.

    Manning came back from multiple neck surgeries to win a Super Bowl. Not to lose to a hot-and-cold Ravens team at home.

    Yes, the Manning experiment was a success.

    So why does this feel just like the playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996?