DENVER – The last time the Baltimore Ravens were in this stadium, many of them sprinted off the field and through the tunnel with joy, to find some warmth and celebration in the locker room after a frigid double-overtime playoff win.
This time, they once again wanted to leave as quickly as possible. But this time, they wanted to get the heck out of town and forget the whole ugly mess of their 49-27 loss to the Broncos happened.
The 2013 Ravens aren't the 2012 Ravens. That team had Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe. That team won a Super Bowl.
Maybe the 2013 Ravens will have a great season themselves, but it's obviously a much different challenge this time around with a roster that lost a lot of key pieces.
"Everything went wrong," cornerback Corey Graham said, summing up the season opener for the defending champs.
The thing is, it was going pretty well for a while. The Ravens led 17-14 at halftime, and on Denver's first drive of the third quarter, Wes Welker dropped a pass on third and 9. The problem was, the officials never saw the drop. Welker got credit for a 10-yard catch, and three plays and 69 yards later, the Broncos took the lead. The Broncos then blocked a punt, scored again, forced a three-and-out, scored again, and the rout was on.
After Welker's third down "catch," the Broncos used a no-huddle approach and snapped the ball before the Ravens could consider challenging the play.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's something you have to see, it'd be nice if NBC would show it, but we didn't have a chance to look at it."
Even though that was the moment the game started to turn, you can't blame a 22-point loss on a questionable call early in the third quarter. The Ravens were simply overmatched.
The Ravens' offense looked slow. That's what happens when you carve out significant roles for Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark, two old veterans who were great in their day, but that day has passed. There's a reason both of those guys were unemployed well into the offseason. Clark dropped a sure touchdown late in the second quarter, and on a third down in the third quarter he was drilled by last year's playoff goat Rahim Moore and dropped the ball. The Ravens were desperate when they signed Clark and Stokley, and they still don't have a clear answer for how to replace Pitta and Boldin on third downs.
The Ravens defense was no better. The 49 points allowed was the most in Ravens history. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was great, but a secondary has to play pretty poorly to allow 462 passing yards and a NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes.
"We have to tackle better, and there were a few plays that we feel like we gave them, but they executed well," Ravens safety James Ihedigbo said.
Injuries to receiver Jacoby Jones and offensive tackle Michael Oher were brutal for the Ravens' offense (Oher's rookie backup Ricky Wagner was a turnstile when he came in), but there has to be plenty of concern about the defending champions after this game.
It's just one game of 16, but the Ravens have to be a bit concerned. At least there's plenty of time to fix some of the issues.
"We have to go back to the drawing board," Ihedigbo said. "It puts it all into perspective as to what type of team we want to be, but at the end of the day, it counts for one loss. Everything that we want to do is still in front of us, and that's our focus."