Running back Knowshon Moreno vaulting over veteran Baltimore safety Ed Reed was one of the takeaway images of the Denver Broncos’ dominating 34-17 win over the Ravens on Sunday.
There were other startling visuals, none of them flattering for a Baltimore team that has now failed in three consecutive attempts to clinch the AFC North and had to back into a playoff berth as Pittsburgh lost to Dallas later in the day.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco with his helmet buried in the artificial turf several seconds after a pass was returned 98 yards by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris for a touchdown late in the first half. Reed angrily tossing and then kicking his helmet in the third quarter after he was exposed again by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who beat the Ravens for the eighth consecutive time.
“As a player, I’m embarrassed for our city,” Reed said.
“I say 'embarrassed' because that’s the word that hit me today after what we did.”
Before Sunday's lackluster display, talk centered on what would be missing from M&T Bank Stadium: Cam Cameron, who was fired last week and replaced by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as the Ravens' offensive coordinator.
Cameron wasn’t the issue as this game showed, something Ravens coach John Harbaugh all but admitted after the game.
“It’s not about that and it’s not going to be about that,” Harbaugh said. “You can guys can talk about that. What we’re going to do is we’re going to work on achieving our dream, achieving our first goal (of winning the division).”
Flacco's inconsistency goes beyond the guy making the game plan, although the offensive line did him few favors as it couldn’t handle even a four-man Broncos rush. The running game that Caldwell tried to establish didn’t gain much ground early and became a non-factor altogether as the Broncos pulled away.
It was easy to identify when that occurred.
Flacco drove the Ravens to the Denver 4-yard line with less than a minute left in the first half. Out of the no-huddle, Flacco then he threw a pass toward receiver Anquan Boldin. Harris stepped in front of it and outran Flacco up the sideline, all but sealing the Broncos’ first road victory against the Ravens in franchise history.
“That could have changed the game,” said Flacco, who was sacked three times, fumbled once and went 20 of 40 passing for 254 yards. “It’s a 14-point swing.”
The Ravens’ defense held Manning in check for much of the first half before both age and depth became issues.
Baltimore was again without All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis — who was not even activated from injured reserve — and safety Bernard Pollard, and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain were inactive for the game. Linebacker Terrell Suggs did play, although sporadically and in obvious pain from a torn biceps injury he suffered two weeks ago.
The Ravens’ injuries woes mounted as they lost running back Bernard Pierce and receiver Torrey Smith to concussions on Sunday.
“It’s part of it, but we’re professionals,” Reed said of the injuries. “We have to come to work every week. Today we didn’t.”
Next up for the Ravens is the New York Giants, who looked similarly inept in a 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Giants, losers of two of their last three, have surrendered the division lead to the resurgent Washington Redskins with their recent slide.
The Ravens still hold a one-game edge on the Bengals, not that it should be much solace for a team that looked like a Super Bowl favorite after a 9-2 start.
“It tests all of us,” Flacco said. “It tests our leadership. It tests our toughness. We believe we have a tight locker room. It’s going to test that. We’re a 9-5 football team. It feels like we’re 0-14 right now.”