Tale of the tape: Joe Flacco's back-breaking pick-six

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris intercepts a pass by Joe Flacco intended for Anquan Boldin.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris intercepts a pass by Joe Flacco intended for Anquan Boldin. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

Every week, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week's game. Today, he looks at Joe Flacco's first-half interception that was returned for a touchdown.

In an instant, an already-ugly performance for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense took an abrupt turn for the worse late in the first half of Sunday's 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. After starting the game with a string of three-and-outs and another lost fumble by Flacco, the Ravens had finally started to gain some yards and some momentum, and they threatened to cut into the Broncos' lead as the second quarter wound down.


Torrey Smith caught a short pass from Flacco and danced his way to Denver's 4-yard line with 44 seconds left. With a new set of downs and three timeouts at their disposal, the Ravens hurried back to the line of scrimmage and ran their next play with 30 seconds left. As coach John Harbaugh explained Monday, the Ravens wanted to keep the Broncos on their heels, which is why they didn't use a timeout to regroup.

The Ravens put Torrey Smith wide to the left with fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the slot next to him. Tight end Dennis Pitta was in the right slot with wide receiver Jacoby Jones flanked to his right. Running back Ray Rice was lined up in the backfield, offset to the right, when Flacco took the snap from under the center.

The Ravens ran the same route combination on each side of the formation, with the outside receiver running a fade toward the back pylon and the slot receiver running a short out route underneath it.

"That's coach's call. That's my call," Harbaugh said Sunday when asked who was responsible for that particular play call. "We run that a lot. We've done that a lot this year. We've done it over the last few years. There's a number of play calls that we have in that situation. Joe is trying to stick it in there for a touchdown."

The Broncos were in man coverage with both safeties sitting on potential slant routes across the middle. Their cornerbacks quickly identified the routes and latched onto the Ravens receivers.

The play was intended to be bang-bang, with Flacco reading high-to-low and getting the ball out quickly, making pass protection pretty much a moot point. By design, Flacco only had time to look at the left side of the formation, and after first looking at Smith, he progressed to Boldin but got the ball out a little too late.

"I was just reading it out," Flacco said after the game. "The fade was just taking a little bit longer than I wanted. I was probably a little bit late on it because the sideline was squeezing with [Boldin] and all that. In hindsight, I should have just taken the ball and thrown it over Anquan's head and lived for the next play."

Asked by a reporter to elaborate from his perspective what happened on the interception, Boldin replied, "I'd rather not."

Broncos slot cornerback Chris Harris admitted after the game that he was surprised that Flacco threw the pass to Boldin, but it didn't show. He jumped the route and returned the interception 98 yards.

Flacco tried to make things interesting, though. The 6-foot-6 quarterback got bumped by Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard at the Baltimore 40-yard line, but he gave Harris a good chase and laid out in a desperate attempt to trip Harris up before he crossed the goal line. The image of Flacco sprawled out, face first on the turf, was a microcosm of his first game sans Cam Cameron, but he at least deserves a little credit for not quitting on the play.

"I'm not quite fast enough to get to him. I was trying to take the angle to get to him, and they had one guy that actually did get a little piece of me that I had to run around a little bit," Flacco said. "You do something like that, you know it's going to be a big play, and you just try to do all you can to minimize the damage."

The Broncos took a 17-0 lead into the locker room. And after the Ravens kicked a field goal on the first drive of the second half, the Broncos scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to quickly make the score, 31-3.

The 34-17 loss was among the most lopsided of Flacco's career, and even though the Ravens defense was also overmatched, you never know, the outcome might have been different if Flacco hadn't thrown that pick.

"I just made a mistake, there's no other way to put that," Flacco said. "It's just a mistake on my part."

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