AFC North: Ravens Send Manning, Broncos to another Early Playoff Exit

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Jan 12 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones (12) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Denver Broncos free safety Rahim Moore (26) of the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the meat-locker-level temperature, both offenses for both the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens seemed largely unaffected by the Rocky Mountain frost during the first half. Both offenses froze over in the second, but a more effective running game and pass rush led the Ravens to an overtime victory in the Mile High City.

The Ravens started off with their newly-balanced offense under Jim Caldwell, mixing in a variety of screens to keep Denver’s speedy linebackers, especially Von Miller on the pass rush, in check. With plenty of time in the pocket, Joe Flacco focused on attacking with his safeties, who presented a mismatch against Denver’s outside linebackers and safeties.

But the Ravens punted the ball to Trindon Holliday, the pint-sized returner with afterburner acceleration, and a few became over-aggressive and left their lanes as Holliday backed up to field the booming punt. Holliday then made them pay, putting the Broncos up 7-0 on the electric 89-yard return.

Jacoby Jones bobbled the ensuing kickoff, which ended up being downed on the 6-yard line. But with Flacco using a completely-clean pocket to throw comfortably, he found Torrey Smith for a 59-yard touchdown pass down the seam. He was able to release cleanly and just out-ran Champ Bailey all throughout the half. Before the two-minute warning, Bailey finally stayed on top of Smith, and Flacco hit Smith’s back shoulder perfectly to tie up the game21-21 at half.

Manning began the game very well, himself, once he was able to get his gloved hands on the ball. He ended his first drive with a Ravens pick-six, which resulted from a ball that bounced off wide receiver Eric Decker’s hands into the hands of Corey Graham for Baltimore.

After that, Manning led two methodical drives, picking apart the Ravens defense slowly and surely. On his first touchdown pass, he ran the same play that led to a pick six, the levels concept. With the cornerback cheating towards the inside, Brandon Stokely broke to the corner simultaneously with the release of a text-book perfect pass from Manning.

On his second touchdown, Manning sent running back Knowshon Moreno out wide right with the formation spread all the way from sideline to sideline. All receivers ran comeback routes, but the two outside receivers ran double moves and broke upfield. With Ed Reed frozen between the two outside routes, Manning dropped a ball over Moreno’s shoulder for a second touchdown.

The Broncos tried to head into the half with one more field goal after barely converting a 4th-and-1. Matt Prater kicked the ball poorly off of the rough playing surface, which allowed the Ravens to drive down the field and tie it up with the Flacco to Smith connection.

On the second half kickoff, Holliday struck again with a 104-yard kickoff return for another touchdown, keeping Manning on the sidelines once again.

The rest of the second half was decidedly less exciting. The Ravens remained balanced and played without panic, while the Broncos found themselves relying on the run more heavily despite the loss of running back Knowshon Moreno due to injury. After two offsides in one drive by Denver, one of which negated a strip sack, Denver’s Keith Brooking recovered a botch snap by Matt Birk and Flacco.

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