Saturday afternoon turned quickly into Saturday evening as the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens played just the fourth double-overtime game in NFL history. A packed stadium loaded with fans either frozen to their seats or up dancing at the drop of a music note in attempt to ensure circulation removed their shades. The sun did its daily thing and set behind the west stands and the cold day became a downright frigid night.
On the field, a ballet of sort was playing out in front the 75,000-plus shoehorned into Sports Authority Field at Mile High. A game that was ultimately won by Baltimore 38-35 on a Justin Tucker field goal in the second extra frame was tied at every juncture of scoring.
Tied at 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35.
The home fan-base was electrified by the special team brilliance of Trindon Holliday, who returned both a punt and kickoff for scores (the second of which few saw live with many still in a bathroom/concession line). But almost four-and-a-half hours after the opening kick-off, those non-Purple wearing fans were stunned. Instantly sobered, but also instantly dazed and confused.
What had happened? The game was always in control, right? This team was always slow to start and with a second-half fury had been putting opponents away.
Did Champ Bailey really get beat twice on deep balls?
Did Peyton Manning really turn the ball over three times in a home game?
Did Matt Prater really blow that make-able field goal that badly?
Wait, the season is really over?
It was quiet. I was there. I made that Sherpa-like long trek from the 500 level down all the switch backs. I was no longer cold. Wisely, no giddy Raven fan vocally gloated in between the orange-clad masses.
But, for a team that had scored 481 points on the season ranking second behind only New England, it may have been most disappointing how the game ended. That is how Denver’s offenses let the team down. Coaches, players and fans alike know the Broncos’ top-flight defense did not show up, but should that have even been an issue? The Broncos gave the Ravens an opportunity by being passive. Baltimore was even allowed that slight glimmer of hope because the Broncos took their feet off the gas.
Many remember Manning taking a knee to end regulation with 31 ticks on the clock and two time-outs at the Broncos’ disposal. But, it was a play that proceeded Joe Flacco’s miracle 70-yard toss to Jones that even made the play possible.
3rd-and-7 for the Broncos near midfield. 1:30 left on the clock. Denver holding a 35-28 lead.
Even in this situation as the leading team is trying to kill the clock (a skill that Manning has performed masterfully all season) a pass play is in order. Get a first down, move the chains, kill more clock, make it s a two-score game.
Instead, Manning audibled to a run play off left tackle (the fifth straight of its kind). The Ravens stuffed the play, got the ball back, won the game.
You have arguably the best passer in the history of the game and the crucial play call defers instead to a rookie running back that just two weeks prior was benched for fumbling? Using their first time-out only compounded that error, a fact that might have led to John Fox’s decision to not try to move the ball with 31 seconds remaining.
I am sorry. There were several targets worthy of having a good “finger-pointing,” but that call irked me the most.