The firing of former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and the subsequent promotion of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell to that position, were supposed to help the Baltimore Ravens out of an offensive slump that has now seen the team lose three straight games, and go from a seemingly sure AFC North winner to a team seemingly hoping for a home playoff game at 9-5. Caldwell, who worked with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis for years, would call plays for the first time in an NFL game while facing his old buddy as the Ravens took on the Denver Broncos at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
Change, at least to start, wasn't successful. The 34-17 thrashing, which was not nearly as close as the score may indicate, was the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh era.
The worst play happened when, with first-and-goal at the Denver 4-yard line with 15 seconds left in the first half, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception to Broncos defensive back Chris Harris, who returned it 98 yards for a pick-six.
"You come to the Ravens' house and beat them handily, it's definitely a statement game," Harris said. "We definitely wanted to show to everybody that we're an elite team."
The 11-3 Broncos most certainly are. The Ravens? Not so much.
"I felt like it was Christmas and not for our side," said safety Ed Reed, who was individually embarrassed when Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno jumped over him during a 20-yard gain.. "We were in a giving mood. ... We didn't play football. I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have. As a Ravens nation, as a player, I am embarrassed for our city."
Flacco, who was the target of boos from the home crowd, acknowledged that the fans had a right to be ticked off. He finished with 20 completions in 40 attempts for 251 yards, two touchdowns, and that pick-six. However, both touchdowns, to tight end Dennis Pitta, came in the fourth quarter, when the game had entered the "laugher" stage. Baltimore's first right drives read like a JaMarcus Russell career retrospective: Fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception for touchdown, end of half.
"I think the crowd has been incredible ever since I've been here," he said. "I assume [it was the same] before I got here. So yeah, you want to go out there and you want to give your best performance to these guys every week — home or away. And when you come out and get beat like this, it's tough. It's tough on you because you want to give them that performance. Obviously, it's tough on those guys because they want to see us win. So they're entitled to do it the way they see it, and we're going to do our best from here on out to make sure that we can try to give you guys a good show and put wins on the board."
More disconcerting for the Ravens fanbase was undoubtedly the fact that running back Ray Rice got 38 rushing yards on just 12 carries. Cameron has been widely criticized for not using Rice enough, especially in Baltimore's 23-20 loss on December 2, when Rice didn't see the ball at all in the fourth quarter.
"We have to find that middle gap where we can put it all together," Rice said. "We need one game, and then the playoffs are right there."
Of course, with the game in hand early on, the Broncos could run the ball more than usual, and they certainly did -- their 45 rushing attempts set a record for a team with Peyton Manning at quarterback.
The Ravens are not used to individual and team embarrassments like this, and if they don't turn things around quickly, they'll have a very long offseason to ask themselves why.
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