Did the Broncos, who had won 11 straight games, go away from what was working? Was it the loss of Knowshon Moreno? Was it Champ Bailey getting beat several times? Or was it bad coaching?
Maybe it's a combination of all of these things, but let's reflect on the coaching, especially some of the late decisions that were made by head coach John Fox.
Champ Bailey, who will be going to a 12th Pro Bowl, was beat up and down the field in this game by Torrey Smith, who had touchdown receptions of 59 and 32 yards and would have had a third touchdown had Joe Flacco not overthrown him.
Seeing Bailey struggling, he was never given any help to slow down Smith.
3rd-and-7 with 2:00 Remaining
Following the two-minute warning, Denver was faced with a 3rd-and-7 from its 47-yard line. With Baltimore out of timeouts, a first down wins the game. Baltimore has the box stacked and Denver has the likely league MVP at quarterback.
What is the play call? A run to Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is stopped for no gain, giving the Ravens the last-gasp effort they were looking for.
Moments later, Jacoby Jones unbelievably gets behind the Broncos secondary and catches a 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 35.
:31 Seconds Remaining, 2 Timeouts
Even after the score was tied, the ensuing kickoff led to a touchback. From their 20-yard line, the Broncos had 31 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in their pocket. Again, you have Manning on your team. Not only that, but one of the strongest kickers in the NFL who has twice kicked 59-yard field goals in his career.
Why not try to move the ball into field-goal range? Instead, Denver opts to take a knee and head into overtime. Were the Broncos shell-shocked?
Conservative Play-Calling in Overtime
You've probably heard the expression that a team was playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. That fits the Broncos perfectly once the game went into overtime.
Hampered by the fact that the running game was missing Moreno, the play-calling got very conservative. In overtime, Manning never threw the ball more than 11 yards down the field. The Broncos ran 13 plays in overtime, and Ronnie Hillman touched the ball on seven of those. An incomplete pass was intended for him as well.
Where was Demaryius Thomas? Where was Eric Decker? The two receivers, who both had over 1,000 yards receiving, were barely looked at when the game was on the line.
You really have to wonder what Fox was thinking in this one. Yes, it was cold and the low temperature factored into this game, but Baltimore had to deal with the same conditions. Yes, the Broncos had to turn to some players they weren't accustomed to using as much such as Hillman and Jacob Hester.
When the game was on the line, with their $96 million man under center, Denver was too tentative and played scared. In the NFL, when you play scared, you get beat.
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