It was all defense in Mile High as the Broncos squeaked out a win over the Baltimore Ravens 19-13 in the final seconds of their regular season opener.
Who would have thought Peyton Manning would throw 40 passes and only rack up 175 yards, no touchdowns and 1 interception? Manning did not look sharp at all against a tough Ravens defense. On the first drive Manning rolled out on a play action pass and missed a wide open Demarius Thomas that lead to the first of 5 Britton Colquitt punts and that set the tone for the rest of the Denver offensive effort until late in the fourth quarter.
With a young inexperienced offensive line there was bound to be some tough sledding against the Raven’s defense. Last year the Ravens ranked 4th overall in the NFL on defense On Sunday the Raven pass rush sacked Manning 4 times and forced him to throw an errant pass that was intercepted and run back for a touchdown.
Thanks to the oft maligned Brandon McManus the Broncos were able to score only 13 offensive points, 12 of those on McManus field goals. No one ever doubted McManus’ leg strength, but his accuracy was in question. He answered that question on Sunday by nailing 4 of 4 field goals from 57, 56, 43 and 33 yards.
The Broncos were not alone in their anemic offensive performance. Neither team led a drive to the Red Zone until the fourth quarter. The Bronco defense held the Ravens to 73 yards rushing and 100 yards through the air. Incredibly the defense stopped the Ravens on 11 of their 13 third down attempts forcing them to punt. Both teams were stymied by aggressive defensive play. The Ravens only managed to average 3.0 yards per play and the Broncos only managed 3.3 yards per play the entire game. Neither team scored an offensive touchdown.
The shinning light for Denver was the defense. The Bronco pass rush was all over Joe Flaco like a cheap suit. While the Bronco D only managed to sack Flaco twice, they were in the backfield so often Flaco could have mistaken them for his running backs. With the huge pass rush the secondary was able to blanket Flaco’s receivers throughout the game. Late in the third quarter Flaco attempted a pass to Steve Smith and Aquib Talib stepped in front of him, intercepted the pass and ran it back 51 yards for Denver’s only touchdown of the game.
Talib’s interception put a spark in the Denver offense and on the first drive of the fourth quarter the Broncos mounted a 17 play, 10 minute 56 second drive that resulted in a field goal that put the Broncos up 19-13. On that drive Denver racked up more rushing yards than they did the rest of the game combined. With C J Anderson having a tough day, Ronnie Hillman stepped up and rumbled for 36 yards on 5 carries on that drive.
After the 2 minute warning the Raven’s had the ball on their 36 yard line. Needing a touchdown and a single extra point to win the game Joe Flaco engineered a drive down to the Bronco 16. With 36 seconds left in the game Flaco threw a fade pass to Crockett Gilmore in the end zone, but former Raven defensive back Darian Stewart intercepted the pass and sealed the win for Denver.
Looking ahead to next Thursday night’s game, the Broncos travel to Kansas City to face a division rival and another tough defense. All but the Raiders (ha ha) in the AFC West won their season opener.