In a game dictated by old-school rules, the Ravens hammered in a daunting history lesson.
And, once again, for the fourth straight year, the Ravens owned them.
By the end of the Ravens' 26-6 victory yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, it was difficult for the record crowd of 69,721 to tell whether the Broncos were holding white towels or white flags.
The Ravens' defense grabbed the game and third-string quarterback Danny Kanell by the throat from the beginning and squeezed the fight out of the Broncos in the end. Two interceptions - by Ray Lewis and Gary Baxter - and a fourth-down stand deep in Denver territory set up easy scores in a 17-point fourth quarter, turning a 9-6 lead into a rout.
"As long as we come out and play our game, I think we have the advantage mentally," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It still doesn't make the win automatic. But when you go against them, we know what it takes to beat them."
In keeping an opponent out of the end zone for the first time this season, the Ravens (4-3) remained atop the AFC North, holding a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 20-point win over Denver (5-3) was the largest for the Ravens in a one-sided series that has featured embarrassments on such stages as the playoffs and Monday Night Football.
"You never want to put a lot into history," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said, "but we had the confidence going in from the past games."
Nursing a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens' defense barricaded midfield as well as the end zone.
Ray Lewis ended a Denver drive at the Ravens' 43-yard line, racing over to wide-open receiver Rod Smith and picking off the pass. In delivering his biggest play of the season, Lewis returned it to the Broncos' 20.
Four plays later, Kyle Boller rolled out to his right and hit tight end Terry Jones with a 5-yard pass, notching the Ravens' first touchdown on their fourth trip to the red zone.
"I saw Danny Kanell kept reading his receivers and I just broke on it," Lewis said of his 15th career interception. "Good thing it was there."
Less than a minute later, Baxter intercepted Kanell to continue the onslaught. On the next play, Jamal Lewis broke an arm tackle at the line and ran the rest of the way untouched for a 28-yard touchdown.
Lewis, the NFL's leading rusher, pounded out 134 yards on a career-high 32 carries for his sixth straight 100-yard game. More impressively, it was the first time a running back has cracked that mark against Denver's fourth-ranked defense.
"You could see it in their eyes," Jamal Lewis said. "Once you get the ball downhill and the line is really dominating, they just wear down."
The Ravens' defense didn't just wear down the Broncos. It pulverized them.
Of the 37 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, 32 of them were in Denver territory. The defense's effort paved the way for the final three scoring drives of 20, 3 and 28 yards.
"It shows our offense that no matter what they do," Baxter said, "we have their back."
Said Mulitalo: "We fed off the defense's energy."
The defense allowed Denver to cross its 46-yard line only three times in the game, and the Broncos had to settle for field goals on two trips. In the final 22 minutes, the Ravens never let the Broncos get closer than the 46.
Following their game plan, the Ravens silenced running back Clinton Portis (86 yards on 22 carries) and put all the pressure on Kanell, who was starting his first NFL game in nearly three years, forced into the role by injuries to starter Jake Plummer and backup Steve Beuerlein.
The Ravens held a Denver offense without three starters to 194 total yards and stopped it on third down on 11 of 15 tries. It marked the fewest points allowed by the Ravens since a January 2002 playoff game.
"Some people want to call it arrogant or cocky, but it's the way we play football," Ray Lewis said. "Our defense just doesn't believe in giving up certain things. Sometimes, we have bad days. But today, we came out and clicked on all cylinders."
Said Boller, who finished 15-for-27 for 137 yards: "I can't say enough about the defense. They stepped up."
In the first half, the end zone was no man's land for the Ravens, who relied on field goals by Stover of 25, 39 and 22 yards.
The Ravens' best chance came on their third series, when Todd Heap apparently caught an 11-yard pass before linebacker Al Wilson planted his shoulder underneath the tight end's chin. As Heap fell on his back in the end zone, the ball came out at the same time his helmet flew off.
The officials first signaled a touchdown but reversed the score after an instant-replay challenge by Denver. The Ravens eventually stalled and tied the game at 3.
"There's no any doubt in my mind it was a touchdown," Heap said. "I felt like I had it with a few feet down. But you can't leave it in the ref's hands. I think they were seeing something different from what I was seeing."
But there was no reversal of fortune for the Ravens against a Denver team that had previously lost only to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and then-unbeaten Minnesota Vikings.
"This shows we can play with anybody in the league," Heap said. "This builds huge confidence for the rest of the season."
Ravens coach Brian Billick said there's a chance history could again repeat itself with the Broncos.
"Today was a man's game," Billick said. "That's a good football team and a team we could very likely see again this season [in the playoffs]."
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