Here on Jan. 12th, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens visited Sports Authority Field at Mile High to play the Denver Broncos as 10-point underdogs.
Here on Jan. 12, 2013, it will forever be known as the day that the Ravens upset the heavily favored Broncos in double overtime, 38-35.
This was a painful loss. It wasn't just a painful loss because the Broncos were heavily favored. It wasn't because they were the No. 1 seed. It wasn't because they had home-field advantage.
No. It was because the Broncos blew a game that they had won. It would have been one thing if the Broncos lost this game in the fashion that the Green Bay Packers lost their game later on in the night to the Niners, where the Niners dominated the Packers.
In a weird way, this loss would have been less painful. Am I saying that's the route that I would have preferred the Ravens-Broncos game went? No.
However, this has to be the worst loss that I've seen the Broncos suffer in a big game. Super Bowl blowout losses against NFC powerhouse teams in the '80s are one thing; losing to the second-year '96 Jaguars as Super Bowl favorites is about the only playoff loss that I can think of that is as painful as this one.
The Broncos had the game won.
Denver was up 35-28 with 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense took over from their 23-yard line with no timeouts remaining.
On a 3rd-and-3 with very little hope of tying the game, Flacco and the Ravens managed to do the impossible by having a little skill, luck and bad football IQ coincide to make a great play.
Flacco heaved up a desperation pass to Jacoby Jones into double coverage. Tony Carter had Jones underneath and for whatever reason, Rahim Moore did the same. Instead of getting behind Jones to defend him high, Moore went underneath and Jones and badly misplayed the ball.
Moore did not come close to batting that ball. He whiffed big time and it looks even worse on the numerous replays you're bound to sit through for the rest of your lives.
That wasn't the worst of it.
The worst of it was, that for whatever reason, whether that's due to natural instincts, lack of time to properly assess the play and situation at hand or nerves, Moore made the wrong decision in going underneath Jones to defend the pass.
If Rahim simply goes over Jones, even if Jacoby makes the catch, Moore would have tackled him inbounds 30 yards before Jones even gets to the end zone and the clock runs down to the point where the Ravens have one or two plays to run off before the end of the game.
What do you call that play?
A lack of football IQ. It was just a bad play by Moore—not knowing the situation at hand. He went all-out for that deflection and he got burned.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Broncos then headed into overtime. They played hard for nearly a full overtime period before Peyton Manning ended up throwing the game-losing interception.
Since I gave Moore a lot of flack for his one play that cost Denver the game, I have no choice to do the same for Manning.
I can excuse Peyton for the first-quarter interception because it wasn't his fault. Did he try to fit the pass into a tight space? Yeah. But Eric Decker did get touched before the ball got to him which led to the deflection that led to Corey Graham's interception return for a touchdown.
Can I forgive Peyton's third-quarter fumble with the Broncos threatening to go up by two possessions for the second time in the game, only to fumble it away and have the Ravens march down the field to tie up the game at 21-all?
Can I forget about Peyton's interception by Corey Graham where Manning was rolling to his right and threw across his chest to the middle of the field only to have it intercepted?
I will defend Peyton until the day that he proves he's no longer the quarterback for the Broncos. He had one of the finest seasons of his career, led Denver to one of the best regular seasons in franchise history and has made this team a legit title contender.
I realize that as Broncos fans, some of us will get defensive over the criticism of Peyton's performance in this game, largely summed up and highlighted by his interception to Graham in overtime that led to Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.
But the criticism is simply justified.
Did the Broncos lose this game because of one bad bone-headed move by Moore, followed by another bone-headed throw by Peyton? No.
Hell, Champ Bailey got burned three times by Torrey Smith. Two of them ended up as touchdowns, one was an overthrow by Flacco that would have been a touchdown if it wasn't for the overthrow.
The defense got absolutely no pressure on Flacco which gave him all of the time that he needed to complete the three long touchdown passes. In fact, they got one sack on the day. It didn't happen until overtime.
Having said that, when have you ever seen Peyton throw a pass like that?
It's one thing when you have a guy like Brett Favre—the career interceptions leader and a guy notoriously known for taking unneeded risks—throw the game-costing interception in the '09 NFC Championship versus the Saints, which was similar to Peyton's throw versus the Ravens.
It's Brett Favre for God's sake. He does that in both the regular season and the postseason. Favre went through three straight seasons where the last pass he threw in each season was an interception ('07-'09, which ended his team's playoff fortunes in each season).
But to have Peyton throw a pass that not even a rookie quarterback would make?
How can you explain that? How can you defend that?
There is simply no explaining it. You can't defend it.
And so the Broncos enter the 2013 NFL offseason having wasted a bright regular season by choking on the biggest of stages—the NFL postseason.
It wasn't a one-man loss. It wasn't a two-man loss. It was an entire team's loss.
I laid the criticism on Moore and Peyton. Even threw in Bailey and the defense in there. What about coach John Fox?
I was ready to criticize him for the 3rd-and-7 on Denver's last offensive drive before Jacoby Jones scored on the game-tying touchdown, where the Broncos would end up running the football on a safe play with Ronnie Hillman before punting the football.
I mean why not give the potential NFL MVP a chance to win the game for you by throwing the football?
However, the icing on the cake was with 31 seconds left and two timeouts remaining. With the Broncos taking over at their 20-yard line, here was Peyton Manning—taking a knee to end regulation.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the Ravens riding at an all-time high of emotions after Jones' miraculous 70-yard touchdown run and catch? Was their confidence not at an all-time high after Flacco had completed three 30-plus-yard touchdown passes throughout the game?
Why even take the chance of heading into regulation when Baltimore's offense had its way with Denver's defense all throughout the game?
In a move that will be second-guessed until the day that John Fox and Peyton Manning lead the Broncos to a third Super Bowl title, Fox chose to run out the clock and take his chances in overtime.
Yet again, living up to his billing as a safe coach.
It backfired on the Broncos. Just like every move they made in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.
What is there to say about this 38-35 double-overtime loss?
It is what it is.
The Broncos lost this game and can't look at it any other way. If the Broncos want to win a Super Bowl in the Manning era, they need to not only play better, but use this game as a learning and motivational tool for championship success next season.
If the '97 and '98 Broncos can do it, I expect the '13 Broncos to do the same.
If they can't, Jan. 12, 2013, will be a date remembered by Broncos fans for a long time.
For all of the wrong reasons.