Baltimore Runs All Over Denver Again, 31-17
GROUND GAME POUNDS OUT VICTORY
By Joe Platania
M&T BANK STADIUM, Baltimore -- Many have asked what the Ravens' identity is. On any given week, it's whatever they want it to be.
The team used a poised, confident air attack last week to pull out a win at Pittsburgh. Sunday, Baltimore returned to its ground-oriented roots against a one-dimensional Denver Broncos team to record a 31-17 victory before 71,246 satisfied customers.
|Ray Rice rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos.
"Obviously, it's a win we can really be pleased about and proud of," head coach John Harbaugh said of the franchise's 120th regular season victory.
"We had a very prolific passing game coming in here. But play after play, we executed."
The win gave the Ravens (4-1) two straight October victories, noteworthy because the year's 10th month is typically the Ravens' worst.
Baltimore has had just one winning October in the last 14 seasons (2-1 in 2003) and can get another with a win either at New England next week or at home against Buffalo Oct. 24. Both teams will be coming off byes.
Harbaugh was concerned about Denver's lightning-quick air attack ranked first in the league at 340 yards per game. But except for drives at the end of each half resulting in touchdowns, the Broncos were barely able to gain 200 yards of total offense against the league's top-ranked pass defense.
Brandon Lloyd did the most damage with 135 yards on five catches and two touchdowns and Jabar Gaffney, scoring a last-second touchdown for New England to win a game here in 2007, caught nine for 87 yards. In all, Denver had four passes of 25 or more yards against a Baltimore defense previously allowing two all year.
Former Virginia Tech star Eddie Royal was held to 31 yards on four catches and four other receivers caught no more than two passes.
Denver quarterback Kyle Orton, who had accumulated more passing yards in the first four weeks of any season than anyone except Kurt Warner, had eight passes deflected, four by Fabian Washington, doubling his season total. and was sacked once.
Orton (23-for-38, 314 yards, two TDs, sack, 104.5 rating) still threw for over 300 yards for a fourth straight week, but a 39-yard rushing game wasn't enough to give the Broncos a complete attack.
The Broncos were also plagued by a pair of delay-of-game penalties, a 12-men-on-the-field call and other assorted missteps dropping their record to 2-3.
The Ravens' running game also came to the fore just as the passing attack had last week in Pittsburgh.
Baltimore, possessing the ball for over 36 minutes, ran for 233 yards and four touchdowns on 47 rushing attempts, the second-most the team has had in a game. It was surpassed by a 51-carry game against Cleveland in November 2000. The four touchdowns was also the second-most; the team had five against Detroit last year.
Tailback Ray Rice appeared fully healed from his sprained knee, gaining 133 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns while catching four passes to boot. He is now third on the team's all-time rushing list with only Willis McGahee and Jamal Lewis ahead of him.
But Rice is cognizant of the team's evenly-balanced offense -- it has passed only 17 more times than it has run (176, 159, including sacks allowed).
"We're a well-balanced attack," Rice said. "When you define identity, well, last week when we needed to pass the ball, we passed it. Today, when we needed to run the ball, we ran it. We've faced difficult fronts the last few weeks, (making it tough to) run the ball. ... But we're a well-balanced offense right now."
Rice and McGahee (67 yards, 10 carries, TD) each scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to cap off a pair of ground-oriented drives covering a combined 162 yards. Rice, not known as a goal-line presence, smashed over from a yard out, while McGahee found a right-side hole and galloped 30 yards for his touchdown with 5:06 left.
Teams like the Ravens with championship aspirations can win in more than one fashion. However, squads like Denver's, mired in mediocrity, (10-11 under head coach Josh McDaniels) have to rely on one dimension. When the Ravens take that dimension away, victory is assured.
"Everybody did a great job getting us started today," said quarterbcak Joe Flacco (14-for-25, 196 yards, sack, 81.4 rating). "We feel like we have a pretty special team here. We just have to continue to progress and do things even better, week to week."
LOPSIDED FIRST QUARTER
At first, it looked as if the Ravens would take the suspense out of this one early and romp to another lopsided win. In four previous home games against the Broncos, Baltimore won by a combined 111-39 count,a margin growing to 142-56 by day's end.
The Ravens ran the ball 11 times in the first quarter and got six plays inside the Broncos' five-yard line. The Ravens controlled tempo, running 19 plays to Denver's eight, getting eight of the game's nine first downs and outgaing their visitors, 147-29. However, two early scoring chances netted just one score.
Early in the Ravens' first possession, Flacco found rookie tight end Ed Dickson with the team's longest play of the year, a 58-yard bomb on which the quarterback rolled right and unleashed his cannon-like arm on a deep left-side pass.
Dickson outjumped veteran safety Brian Dawkins and made the catch at the Broncos' 31, dragging Dawkins for an additional 14 yards to the 17. Flacco quick-snapped the visitors' defense and gained nine more yards, after which he handed off to fullback Le'Ron McClain for a first down at the 5.
Flacco then followed center Matt Birk up the middle for what at first looked like the game's first touchdown. But the quarterback's knee had clearly touched down when the ball was still at the 1-yard line, a mark that would prove costly.
With defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on the field as an extra tight end, McGahee could still not get into the end zone despite two straight attempts. On the second, Broncos' leading tackle D.J. Williams knocked him backward.
The Ravens decided to go for it on fourth down and sent Ngata back on the field. He ran a pattern toward the back of the end zone, but Flacco was pressured by linebacker Jason Hunter, who beat two blockers to get to the quarterback before sacking him for a 14-yard loss at the 15, stopping the drive. Ngata was the intended receiver and got hurt on the play but would return.
The Broncos tried to run two plays with little success. Their only successful ground call, a 33-yard end around by Royal, was wiped out by a holding penalty on Georgia Tech rookie and first-round pick Demaryius Thomas.
Eventually, the Broncos, averaging 17 inches per rush in last week's win at Tennessee, got just 27 yards on six carries from ex-New England starter Lawrence Maroney and 13 yards from former Philadelphia Eagle standout Correll Buckhalter.
Baltimore then drove 73 yards on nine plays to close the quarter with the game's first points. An early third-and-8 call found Derrick Mason (47 yards, three catches) alone on the right side for 19 yards to the Broncos' 38. Tight end Todd Heap then got free behind cornerback Perrish Cox, who leads Denver in pass breakups with six, for 22 yards to the 16.
Anquan Boldin then hauled in an eight-yard pass before McClain ran twice to put the ball on the 1. Flacco made the most of the drive by sneaking over the middle for a touchdown with 45 seconds on the clock.
RICE AND PHILLIPS TAKE CONTROL
A few early checkdown passes to Rice probably had fans reminiscent of last year's favorite Ravens safety-valve play. Many complained about Flacco making that choice, but not about the result.
Rice's early second-quarter 18-yard triple-cutting run behind a McClain block to the Denver 37 certainly had the fans wanting more. Two T.J. Houshmandzadeh catches for 24 yards and a Cox pass-interference call on Mason in the end zone finally set up what the fans had been wanting to see since last December.
Before Rice plowed over left guard for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 14-0 lead, he had gone 157 touches since his last score, a 59-yard touchdown against Detroit last December. including his first 78 this season. It was the second-longest current streak in the league, behind injured Cincinnati running back Brian Leonard (175).
The score capped a 72-yard, five-play drive taking only two and a half minutes and givung the Ravens complete control of the game ... as if they didn't have it already.
For Rice, it proved to be a redemptive moment after being slowed by a knee bruise and playing at less than 100 percent in the thrilling win at Pittsburgh last week. But the happy-go-lucky tailback wasn't thinking about himself.
"For you fantasy owners out there," Rice said. "I was trying to help you out."
The Ravens got further energized on the ensuing kickoff, which Thomas foolishly ran out of the end zone despite being five yards deep. Thomas got the ball up to the 16-yard line before Edgar Jones slowed him down.
While Jones had Thomas low, second-year linebacker Jason Phillips slammed into Thomas' head and chest, knocking Thomas backward and rendering him motionless for a few minutes. He did walk off under his own power, but the resulting head and neck injuries sidelined him for the rest of the day.
While Thomas seemed better than expected, he fumbled the ball back to the Ravens where backup safety Ken Hamlin fell on it at the Broncos' 20. That set up a Billy Cundiff 37-yard field goal, which ballooned the lead to 17-0.
To this point, Orton couldn't escape the Ravens' pressure even on the kind of shotgun snaps to give him more time. To compound the Broncos' problem, they were killing themselves with penalties (seven in the first half) against a team drawing the most opponents' flags in the league (42) coming into the game.
But not even a holding call and a delay-of-game violation could keep Denver off the board. Lloyd got open against safety Dawan Landry and dove for a 42-yard touchdown just before halftime, the longest pass play against Baltimore all year, cutting the Ravens' lead to 10 points. Four Bronco punts had preceded the 59-yard drive.
It was the Ravens eventually showing the value of having more than one identity and more than one way to win a game during a time of year when they've had trouble doing so.
Posted October 10, 2010
For Joe Platania's postgame notebook, visit CSNBaltimore.com.