Nice week for the Denver Broncos. First, their quarterback gets knocked down the stairs by his dog. Then a bunch of Ravens fly over.
In a Monday Night Nightmare they’ll never forget, the Broncos fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a resounding splat as the winless Baltimore Ravens, who had scored seven points in two games, dropped 31 on them by halftime and won, 34-23.
Of course, the Broncos helped.
First, they had a punt blocked that led to a 13-yard touchdown drive.
Then their defense blew its collective gasket, drawing five penalties in six plays, worth 51 yards, helping the Ravens get close enough for a 23-yard field goal. These included a pass interference on cornerback Deltha O’Neal, an unsportsmanlike conduct for bumping an official that got O’Neal ejected, a late hit by linebacker John Mobley and a taunting penalty on lineman Trevor Pryce.
Then, when they thought nothing else could go wrong, Coach Mike Shanahan sent Jason Elam out to try a 57-yard field goal with one second left in the half, saw it fall short ... and watched Baltimore’s Chris McAlister return it a record 108 yards for a touchdown.
“Well,” said a taciturn Shanahan, “Baltimore came to play. They did the job they needed to do. We got behind the eight-ball and couldn’t recover.”
The AFC West was a combined 12-2, with three of the four teams (Broncos, Raiders and Chargers) unbeaten. This was supposed to be a warmup for next week’s big Charger-Bronco game.
Of course, quarterback Brian Griese also had a tender ankle, which he sustained, he said, in a fall down the stairs of his home, after his golden retriever, Bella, knocked him off balance.
Not that the Griese’s dog story wasn’t theoretically possible but it was as if all of Denver went “Huh?” in unison.
“I don’t believe I’d have told that one,” teammate Shannon Sharpe said last week.
“So, the dog stood up on his hind legs and gave him a push? OK. You might want to get rid of that dog or put him in the circus, one of the two.”
Meanwhile, the Ravens had been more like an expansion team than the one that won the 2001 Super Bowl and went 10-6 last season. Salary cap problems forced them to break up their fearsome defense, with only four starters (cornerback McAlister, linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware and end Mike McCrary) left from the title team.
Their offense was anything but fearsome but only four starters remain from that championship unit.
Lewis did his 60-second war dance Monday coming out of the tunnel in pregame introductions, as usual--"I told the team just before we came out to follow me, match my passion, match my energy,” he said--but let’s face it, it worked better when he had better teammates.
But the Broncos started making mistakes and the Ravens started making plays.
With Denver up, 3-0, tight end Todd Heap, who had 256 yards receiving in one-plus seasons, jumped over Bronco safety Kenoy Kennedy to catch a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Then Raven rookie safety Ed Reed burst through the middle of the Bronco line to block Tom Rouen’s punt, setting up a 13-yard drive for a touchdown and 14-3 lead.
Then the Broncos took their five penalties, leading to a 23-yard field goal, making it 17-3.
Then Bronco fullback Mike Anderson juggled a pass and Lewis snatched it for an interception at the Bronco 36. On the next play, Heap outjumped another Bronco, linebacker Al Wilson, and hauled in a 33-yard pass at the three.
Two plays later, Redman threw a fade to the 6-5 Heap, who outjumped his third Bronco, safety Sam Brandon, for the touchdown.
Then, McAlister ran back Elam’s missed field goal, taking it eight yards deep in the end zone, hesitating as if he would stay there, then finally coming out at the urging of Lewis who came back to help, which he did with a crashing block that jackknifed Bronco Keith Burns.
So McAlister took off down the left sideline and didn’t have to stop until he reached the other end zone.
The Broncos came out to play in the second half but that was one half too late.