Disappointing: performance, coaching, execution, season.
As Broncos playoff chokes go, this one still probably doesn’t top Jacksonville in 1996, but it’s still a choke, and a big one at that. There’s so much to discuss, and what I don’t want to do is start irrationally calling for anyone’s head or major roster moves, but if anything, this game does leave the Broncos and supporters with a few tough questions.
One overall note on the weather. Yes, it was bitterly cold. It was the same weather for the Baltimore Ravens though. Do the Broncos win in more temperate conditions? Maybe, but maybe not. If any player can’t perform on a cold January evening they’re in the wrong line of work.
Let’s begin with what went well. This won’t take long…unfortunately, and that’s why we’re here.
The highlight: Trindon Holliday
Holliday had a masterful performance. Two returns for touchdowns, one on a punt (90 yards) the other on the kickoff (104 yards) to begin the second half. He was tremendous, and delivered a performance that would have by itself won most games. The problem was his offense missed opportunities, and his defense failed to show up.
Now, to the less appealing: Offense
On the plus side the offense generated 21 points. Not great, but not terrible. Still, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing more. Peyton Manning didn’t have a great game, and his three turnovers serve as a haunting ending to his season. His first interception appeared to be more an instance of Eric Decker having a ball bounce off his hands. (There was contact early on the play that wasn’t called, but regardless, Decker was in position to catch the pass.)
Manning apparently isn’t at the level of Tom Brady in the eyes of this officiating crew as the officials ruled a fumble on basically the same type of tuck play that launched Brady to a Super Bowl. I suppose there are alternate translations of the famous (or infamous) “tuck rule.”
Peyton Manning had three turnovers in the Denver Broncos’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens. (courtesy Jeffrey Beall)
Manning’s final turnover was ugly, and decision he would obviously like to have back – as would we. Decker and Demaryius Thomas either froze in the cold or under the pressure. Neither was particularly impressive, or particularly reliable.
Knowshon Moreno may be a tragic case. Once again, with things moving in the right direction he leaves the game. It’s a really tough thing to say, but are we back to having the conversation about whether he can be a fixture on this roster? To be fair, we don’t know the extent of Moreno’s injury, other than it was a knee. His official status, per the team, was ‘questionable’ for return, but he didn’t. My guess is if Moreno was fine, he would have returned. No offense to Ronnie Hillman, but Moreno brought added dimension to the Broncos offense. He can do more than run; he can pick up blitzes, too. And that was a huge asset for this offense late in the season.
Hillman performed admirably. Lance Ball had no idea what he was doing. Jacob Hester was there, and that’s about it.
The offensive line wasn’t lousy, but wasn’t great. It felt as though the unit played the Ravens’ defensive line to a draw. Didn’t win, didn’t lose. This unit can’t shoulder much blame, but they deserve some. Failing to outright win in the trenches is a recipe for playoff exits.
And now to the ridiculously bad: Defense.
Observation A: The Broncos have yet to develop a top-notch defensive line against the pass. Edge rushers are cool, but how many times did we see the Ravens calmly steer Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller deep into the backfield, allowing Joe Flacco to step up with virtually no one in his face? The line continued to play well against the run.
Observation B: It seems like taboo to say, but the conversation probably needs to be had: Has Champ Bailey reached a point where he’s getting by more on reputation than ability? The Ravens made a mockery of his coverage. It wasn’t even due to double moves or elaborate picks. He straight up could not keep up with Torrey Smith. Bailey is still a talented corner, but if all teams have to do is play an extended version of pitch and catch this defense will look a lot worse. And on that note…
Observation C: Rahim Moore. He put together a great season. I don’t believe he undid it all with one really, really bad play. Moore will be the goat, but in general the Broncos secondary (aside from one nice pass defense by Mike Adams) was abysmal. Moore’s play will be viewed in Baltimore as a miracle of sorts, but it was a game-long failure by this unit.
John Fox = Mr. Conservative. And sometimes that’s not a good thing. (personal photo)
And finally…the sad: Coaching
John Fox. Why? It’s the playoffs. Coming out of the two minute warning the Broncos faced 3rd-and-7 approaching midfield. Fox called the “run the ol’ clock down run” with a predictable result: short. Was this due to Manning’s arm being totally numb? Was Manning suffering from a crippling migraine? No. The coaching staff’s conservative philosophy ultimately paved the way for the Broncos to blow this game.
I’m not going to assess any win probability index of passing in an attempt to convert versus running to drain the clock and then punting. I’ll simply say Fox lacked guts. Sure, the pass could have been incomplete thereby stopping the clock, but a first down seals the game. Fox chickened out. As the Ravens still had to score a touchdown to tie and had no timeouts, the additional 30 seconds are negligible. By that I mean the Ravens are likely throwing the ball on every play regardless of the clock. In that situation it’s more an issue of whether your opponent can hit a few big plays to gain the necessary yardage than whether they have enough time to do it.
Running on 3rd-and-7 signaled Fox hoped the clock, rather than his players, would bail the Broncos out. He was wrong, and deserves every bit the blame Moore may receive.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that this Broncos unit will likely remain mostly intact. They now have the shared experience of understanding the disappointment that comes with failing to execute. Move the officiating and weather aside. The Denver Broncos were the team to decide who won and lost this game. Unfortunately the Broncos did more than enough to lose it themselves. They weren’t overmatched, but rather drastically underperformed. Now they get six months to figure out how to never feel this way again.
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