The Broncos were bamboozled by Baltimore Saturday.
Yes, Denver was confused, frustrated and thoroughly thrown off their game plan by the Ravens' really big plays at crucial times.
Of course, there were phenomenal plays from both teams, part of what made this one of the greatest games of the NFL season.
It all started early when the Broncos jumped on the shoulders of the smallest man in the NFL, Trindon Holliday, as he took the Ravens first punt back 90-yards to the house for a 7-0 Denver lead.
It was exhilarating and warmed the hearts of the Mile High City faithful on the crazy cold day – the wind chill brought the temperatures into the negatives – but the touchdown came too easily and the overconfident Broncos surrendered back-to-back touchdowns.
Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 57-yard bomb as he burned the venerable Champ Bailey – who's obviously lost a step – and Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass that was tipped and took it 39 yards for the TD and 14-7 lead.
Manning and his men marched, putting together a Bronco-like 11 play, 74-yard drive that was capped off by a Brandon Stokley score and the game's second tie.
The Broncos offense continued to play well early on, and put together an 86-yard drive to start the second quarter; Knowshon Moreno's catch on a precise pass from Peyton gave Denver back the lead.
A lead that quickly evaporated when Smith burned Bailey again, this time for 32 yards, making the game 21-21 at halftime.
Denver should have been leading by at least one score, but soft defense allowed Flacco to pick apart the secondary. Their defense racked up an NFL-high 52 sacks on the season, but could manage only one on Flacco, Saturday.
But then there was Holliday again, starting off the second half with excitement, taking the opening kickoff up the middle of the field and back 104 yards for the go-ahead score.
Denver should be celebrating a “Holliday” tonight – he set three NFL postseason records for his returns and yardage – instead, fans are crying in their beers and wondering what could have been.
That's because, when Peyton Manning fumbled in the third quarter, it set the Ravens up with a short field, and they quickly moved 37 yards in five plays to tie the game at 28 with a Ray Rice TD run.
The Ravens defense turned up the heat incredibly on the freezing day, especially in the second half. They hurried and hit Manning when it mattered most, rattling one of the most unshakable players in all of football.
Still, the all-time great quarterback orchestrated one more lengthy and methodical drive before his season came to an end, this one an 88-yard scoring drive that featured rookie Ronnie Hillman and was punctuated with a Demaryius Thomas touchdown.
But the Broncos couldn't finish the game; instead of running the clock out, they conservatively ran on third and seven which gave the ball to Baltimore with 1:09 on the clock. They only needed 28 seconds to score though, as Jacoby Jones ran behind Denver defenders and Rahim Moore timed his jump terribly, watching the ball float over him and into the hands of Jones, who streaked into the end zone to tie the game for a fifth time.
John Fox elected to take a knee and take the ball into overtime, despite having one of the game's greatest late-game quarterbacks, with 31 seconds and two timeouts.
Denver's defense held the Ravens on two drives, but when Manning got it a second time, he did the unthinkable; throw an interception.
Manning rolled right, searched for an open receiver, and when he couldn't find one, forced the ball into Stokley, but Graham was there to pick it off.
The Ravens merely had to run a few times and have rookie Justin Tucker kick the game-winning, 47-yard field goal to win 38-35.
Undoubtedly, those blunders did the Broncos in.
Bailey was burned twice as Smith made him look old. Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal that resulted in a short field and touchdown score on the subsequent Baltimore drive. Moore's play of the bomb that tied the game in the waning seconds was one of the worst mistakes an NFL player can make. Overall, the team committed 10 penalties on the day, including ones that extended drives, for a total of 87 yards.
But the mistakes that cost Denver the most were Manning's three untimely turnovers. His first pick-six gave Baltimore their first lead. His second, a fumble, led to the Ravens' fourth touchdown. And his epic fail throw-across-the-body interception in double overtime was the nail in the coffin of the Broncos' special season.
This defeat is devastating for Denver die-hards, who had dreams of their team winning the Super Bowl in three weeks, and it conjures up memories of the 1996 team that lost to Jacksonville in the Wildcard round at home.
- Ray Lewis, who will retire after this season's playoff run with the Ravens, recorded a game-high 17 tackles.
- Manning finished 28-43 for 290 yards with three scores and three turnovers.
- Flacco went 18-34 for 331 yards with three touchdowns and one fumble.
- Rice's 131 yards were far more than the 38 he had against Denver in the teams' Week 15 matchup.
- The 155 total rushing yards were the most the Broncos had given up since their 11-game winning streak started in Week 5.
- While nine Broncos caught footballs, none went over 100 yards and Demaryius Thomas vanished in the second half.
- The double overtime game's length was 76:42 seconds, making it the fourth-longest game in NFL history.