It was a stormy night in Denver, with the weather so fierce it actually delayed the start of the opening game of the NFL season. And in the delay, the inevitable comparison to the gorgeous weather in Baltimore flooded the twitter-verse. Upper 70′s and partly cloudy skies. The Ravens wished they were able to play at home. Eventually the game did start, but the Ravens never stopped wishing they were home.
After the thunder stopped rolling, Peyton Manning took the Ravens by storm. This was supposed to be a grudge match.This was heralded by both teams as feeling like post-season play. It was supposed to be decided in the trenches. After all, nobody had ever put up 49 points on the Ravens in their 18-year history. It was a return to the playoff game a mere eight months ago, where an underdog Baltimore Ravens team ended the playoff dreams of the newly refurbished Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos. The rematch came nearly eight months after Baltimore beat Denver 38-35 in double overtime on an icy January night in the same stadium. This game was hoped to have the same drama, the same edge of the seat finish. Instead, the drama was how many points could Peyton Manning hang on the once formidable Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
When the smoke cleared, when the lights dimmed, the Ravens were left far behind in the final score of 49-27. Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones was involved in a collision in the 2nd quarter with a member of his own team and did not return to the field. Later in the quarter, starting right offensive tackle Michael Oher sprained his ankle; he didn’t return, either. Oher was replaced at right tackle by rookie Rick Wagner, a fifth-round draft pick from Wisconsin.
The injury to Oher leaves the Ravens undeniably thin along the offensive line. The only other active offensive lineman active for the game was backup center A.Q. Shipley, with guard Jah Reid a healthy scratch. Oher didn’t appear to be seriously hurt and was able to limp off the field under his own power and wasn’t in a walking boot or crutches afterward.
“I have to see how the next couple of days go,” Oher said. “Hopefully, I’ll be all right, though.”
The game lived up to its reputation through halftime, where the Ravens held a slight 17-14 edge over the host Broncos. But within minutes of the start of the second half, the game was clearly evolving into a shootout. Unfortunately, the Ravens seemed to forget to load their weapons in the second half.
Vonta Leach, who did account for a first half touchdown on a passing play, did not rush for a single play. Brandon Stokely had 4 receptions for 34 yards out of 10 targets. Bernard Pierce rushed for nine carries, but could only manage 22 yards rushing. In addition, Pierce failed to catch the one pass thrown his direction.Tight End Ed Dickson did nothing to make the Ravens forget the absence of Dennis Pitta, struggling to catch just one pass for 13 yards. He failed to catch the other four balls thrown his way. And while Tight End Dallas Clark did catch seven passes for 87 yards, he dropped three of the total 12 balls thrown his way. Even sure footed and dependable Ray Rice managed only one touchdown, and a mere 36 total yards out of 12 carries. Torrey Smith had a decent night, hauling in four catches for 96 yards. But the one bright spot of the night had to go to undrafted rookie Marlon Brown, who caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
The game proved to be a spoiler of sorts. Earlier in the day, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had signed head coach John Harbaugh to a four-year extension through 2016. Viewed as Harbaugh’s reward for winning Super Bowl XLVII, the new deal supersedes Harbaugh’s old one, which had two remaining years left. He’ll reportedly make “nearly $7 million” per season. The Ravens’ coach since 2008, Harbaugh has never missed the playoffs, or lost an opener. The former special teams coordinator boasts a 54-26 lifetime record. On the same day as signing a substantial contract, John Harbaugh witnessed his opening game win streak end.
Thursday’s season opener against the Denver Broncos was a costly game for the Ravens’ offense and special teams in terms of injuries as two key players left the game nursing ailments. But even more than the loss of one game, and the injuries to two key players, was the realization after the game that the defending Super Bowl Champions are reeling.
In one single game, the Baltimore Ravens let the swagger of the 2012 miraculous Super Bowl season escape them in front of a national audience. It’s going to take the rest of the season of hard fought football to earn that swagger back.