The Ravens' season-opening 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday night featured a team-wide breakdown as the reigning Super Bowl champions were outplayed in every facet. But one group that took the loss particularly hard was the Ravens' defensive backs, who were badly victimized on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's record night.
Manning tied an NFL mark with seven touchdown passes, four of them coming in a 15-minute span of the second half in which the Broncos turned a 17-14 halftime deficit into a 25-point lead. All told, Manning threw for 462 yards and 302 of them came in the second half.
"It was definitely tough. We didn't expect to open the season and play this bad, but we'll definitely learn from it," Huff said. "Anytime you lose like this in front of the whole world, it's definitely humbling."
The Ravens certainly had their share of issues. Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, his tight ends dropped a bunch of passes and the offensive line created few holes in the running game. On special teams, Sam Koch had a punt blocked, setting up a momentum-building Broncos score.
But in the first game in the post Ray Lewis and Ed Reed era, much of the attention was on the Ravens defense, and it faltered spectacularly in the second half after playing pretty well over the first 30 minutes.
To illustrate how bad things got, the 2012 Ravens didn't give up their seventh touchdown pass until their ninth game of the season. In their four postseason wins last year, the Ravens gave up a total of five passing touchdowns.
"We made a number of mistakes," coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously, there were some nice throws and catches that were tremendously executed, [but] we're better, we can play better. We gave them too many things, too many open guys, too many plays where we have just got to get better at communication. It's early in the season, but those are issues that we have to clean up."
The good news for Harbaugh is the Ravens have nine days before their next game, their home opener Sept. 15 against the Cleveland Browns. After arriving back in Baltimore early Friday morning, the players had early-afternoon meetings to attend and then a walk-through practice to correct some of the mistakes that were made Thursday night.
There was a little of everything to fix, from poor tackling to missed assignments to a lack of communication. On multiple occasions, Ravens defenders passed off a Broncos receiver, only to watch nobody pick him up.
"Everything went wrong," Graham said. "Those guys went out there and they executed their offense and made more plays. We personally need to find a way to get it done. We didn't make the plays that we need to make to be a successful defense. We are going to go out and watch the film and see what they were doing. It was one of those games where everything they did went right, and everything we did went wrong."
Graham, who intercepted Manning twice in the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff victory over the Broncos in January, was particularly hard on himself. He couldn't keep up with Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker, who caught nine passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
However, he was hardly the only Ravens defender to struggle as Manning repeatedly found open space and receivers in the middle of the field. On the Broncos' first touchdown, Ravens safety James Ihedigbo didn't get over in time to stop tight end Julius Thomas' 23-yard catch.
On their next drive, Huff, the veteran safety who was signed in March as a replacement for Reed, missed a tackle on Thomas' 44-yard catch-and-run. On the next play, Manning found an opening between the Ravens' safeties to hit Thomas for a 23-yard score.
"They're obviously a great offense, but we beat ourselves, too," Huff said in the locker room after the game. "I'm still not sure yet what actually went wrong."
Things only got progressively worse as the game wore on. Smith couldn't corral wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a short pass that turned into a 34-yard gain. Two players later, Smith was beat on Manning's 28-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell as the Broncos scored their first of three third-quarter touchdowns.
"We definitely had some coverage issues," said Smith, the third-year cornerback. "We got to play more focused. Against Peyton Manning, they checked to some good calls. He's Peyton Manning and he did his thing."
Though the Ravens' defensive backs made no such excuses, perhaps some of the coverage issues should have been expected this early with so many new faces on defense. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith is in his first year with the team. Weak-side linebacker Josh Bynes is essentially a first-year starter.
Huff and Ihedigbo represent a new safety tandem while cornerback Lardarius Webb is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Webb was a bright spot on Thursday, making several plays on the ball.
"We just had a long night," Webb said. "It's going to make us better in the long run. Yeah, it was very humbling, but great quarterback, great weapons, great offense — things like this can happen if you're not on point."
Still, the Ravens' defenders say that they are undeterred.
"At the end of the day, it's still the beginning of the season. You let your body rest, you watch tape, you figure out the things that you did poorly and you correct it. It is all correctable things," Ihedigbo said. "It's not like guys didn't know what was going on out there. It all comes back to our execution on defense and taking that pressure of playing Ravens football. We need to play with that chip on our shoulder."