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To call Saturday’s game between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens an “upset” is a gross understatement. Broncos fans aren’t upset; we’re depressed.
The Broncos haven’t been to the Super Bowl since back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. For lifelong Broncos fans like myself, it’s been a rough 14 years. Following John Elway’s 1998 retirement, Denver played in multiple Wild Card playoffs and even clinched the AFC West division in 2005 with this year’s record of 13-3. Few of those seasons stand out in memory because few were outstanding.
But no season, even Tim Tebow’s 2011 Mile High miracles, gave fans as much hope for a Super Bowl run as Peyton Manning’s first year in orange and blue. Manning led the team to 11 straight wins after starting this season 2-3, with all the losses going to teams that eventually made it to the playoffs. Clinching the AFC West for the first time in seven years, it felt good to watch Denver earn being on top again.
This is exactly why the loss to the Ravens is so infuriating. Playing the #4 seed should have been a done deal. Maybe it was the bye week, maybe it was the players, maybe it was the refs. Even if it was all three, it was an embarrassing and heart-wrenching ordeal, for lifelong and bandwagon fans, alike.
There were major blunders both offensively and defensively. But when defense took the field, it was like they were playing an entirely different game. Maybe had their heads been in the right game, I wouldn’t have drank so much whiskey Saturday to drown my sorrows. Champ Bailey practically gave Torrey Smith two touchdowns in the first half. The Ravens’ first possession of the third quarter saw penalty after penalty against the Broncos’ defense. Overall, Denver allowed five tie-scoring touchdowns. Baltimore is not good enough for an incredible defensive team like Denver to let that happen, but it did.
The most important touchdown of the game was brought in by Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones after Rahim Moore attempted an interception of Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary and missed, causing Jones to even the score with less than a minute left in the game. While Manning and the offense scored five touchdowns, the Denver defense should have been stopping the Ravens’ rebukes. The only major stop of the game came in overtime with a sack by the usually outstanding Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. By then it was too late to be effective.
Even if the Broncos defense ultimately cost Denver the game in the last minute of regulation, the offense still deserves some of the blame. Had kicker Matt Prater not dragged his foot in his field goal attempt at the end of the first half, the Broncos likely would have had a victory, though narrow, over Flacco and his birds. Manning himself, the man fans hailed all season, committed three turnovers throughout the game. Although one ultimately came from a bad call by the refs and another from good defense by Baltimore, those are mistakes you can’t make in a playoff game.
The worst offensive decision was allowing the last 31 seconds of regulation to tick off the clock to take a chance in overtime. What harm would a 30 second drive do? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to allow Prater to attempt redemption for the first half. Even if the Broncos couldn’t get close enough for an attempt, they should have tried. Denver could and should be preparing for the Patriots right now.
Despite the inaccuracy of the best team in the AFC West, one player should be remembered for an exceptional personal game. Trindon Holliday started both halfs with beautiful returns, so much so that the Ravens tried their best to either not kick to him or defend him hard for the second half. His 90-yard punt return was the strongest and first score of the game and set the NFL postseason record. Holliday followed with a 100+ yard kickoff return at the start of the second half. He is the first NFL player with both a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in the same game, another history-making feat. That is what I will remember from this horrible game, if only so I don’t cry myself to sleep until training camp starts.
For players and fans alike, this playoff was the toughest loss of the year. But in the words of Head Coach John Fox, “Don’t let this defeat define you.” Denver has Manning for four more years. The Broncos will learn from their mistakes. Next year, the men in orange and blue will want those Super Bowl rings more than ever. Denver will always be united in orange.
Contact News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.