From Jarret Johnson delivering a crushing sack on the first defensive play to Ray Rice powering his way across the goal line on the offense's last play, the Ravens didn't just defeat the Denver Broncos.
They beat up the previously unbeaten Broncos.
With three straight losses weighing on their minds during the bye week, the Ravens vented their frustrations with their most complete game of the season, roughing up Denver in a 30-7 rout before 71,132 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The defense set the physical tone and held the Broncos to 200 total yards (the fewest by a Denver team since 2003). The special teams provided the midgame spark when rookie Lardarius Webb returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for a touchdown. And the offense finished it off with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and Joe Flacco completing his final 14 passes.
For the first time in a month, the Ravens didn't let the game come down to the last play. Instead, they left the lasting impression by pounding one of the NFL's three remaining undefeated teams.
"We needed that win," Johnson said. "To lose the way we've lost the last three games … I think we needed to have a big-time opponent and play big versus them. We did that today."
The Ravens (4-3) inched to within one game of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North because they didn't back down from the challenges of playing the Broncos (6-1).
Rice called this a "special" game. Wide receiver Kelley Washington labeled it a "statement game."
Defensive end Terrell Suggs described it as a game of sweeping emotions.
Said Suggs: "We were just hungry. We were angry. And we were very confident coming in."
The players heard all week that the Denver defense was the stingiest in the NFL and looked like some of the old dominant Ravens ones. The Ravens' defense showed the Broncos on Sunday that they have more work to do.
Johnson ran free on the first play of the game to drop Denver's Kyle Orton, one of five quarterback hits by the Ravens. Free safety Ed Reed forced running back Knowshon Moreno to fumble on the Broncos' third series, which led to the Ravens' second field goal of the game. And the Ravens would have intercepted Orton twice if Suggs and Johnson hadn't let passes go through their hands.
In the end, the Ravens were one penalty-filled drive from a shutout. They were flagged twice for pass interference ( Ray Lewis and Domonique Foxworth) and once for being offside (Reed) on a third-quarter series that led to Moreno's 1-yard touchdown run.
"Their defense came in the best in the business right now, not giving up this [and] not giving up that," Lewis said. "So it's always the small challenges inside that you say, 'We're still who we are.' "
The Ravens' run defense, which had allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers, bounced back by limiting Denver to 66 yards on 19 carries (3.5-yard average).
Their secondary, which had given up 21 passes of 20 yards or more in its first six games, allowed only one against the Broncos (a 23-yard pass to tight end Daniel Graham). Brandon Marshall, Denver's No. 1 receiver, was held to four catches for 24 yards (actually, the most productive player wearing No. 15 was the Ravens' Kelley Washington).
"You can never get too high," Foxworth said. "We're not going to go back and think we're the '85 Bears after this game. We have a lot to get better on and we feel confident about it."
The players heard all week how the Broncos were the NFL's best second-half team, giving up 10 points in the third and fourth quarters this season. The Ravens came out after halftime with Webb taking the opening kickoff 95 yards to the end zone.
The Ravens' first kickoff return for a touchdown in two seasons staked the team to a 13-0 lead.
"We said in the second half we wanted to come out and start fast," coach John Harbaugh said. "We wanted to take the ball down the field and score. We just didn't necessarily know it was going to be on the kickoff return."
And the players heard all week how the Denver defense had given up two third-down conversions this season and none in the past four games. The Ravens converted six third downs in the second half (three apiece in their two touchdown drives).
Early in the fourth quarter, Flacco completed a 20-yard touchdown pass on third-and-8 to wide receiver Derrick Mason, putting the Ravens ahead 23-7. Then, with 1:59 left in the game, Rice took a handoff out of the shotgun 7 yards for a score on third-and-goal.
"I think we know what kind of team we have and we know we are capable of doing this kind of thing," said Flacco, who completed 20 of 25 passes (which tied a team record for single-game completion rate at 80 percent) for 175 yards. "For us not to come out here and play hard would be pretty embarrassing."
The Ravens' previous three games had tense, drama-filled endings. On Sunday, the Ravens had time to joke on the sideline.
After Flacco looked away when the Ravens showed him on the stadium's video screen, Harbaugh told his quarterback he needed to charge up the crowd. Flacco replied with a smile, "That's your job."
But the Ravens struck a serious tone when talking about the rest of November. They travel to two AFC North teams (the Bengals and the Cleveland Browns) before playing the Indianapolis Colts (7-0) and defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (5-2) at home.
"We know [the Bengals] are going to be really excited about seeing us coming in there, trying to go two up on us in the division," Lewis said. "The bottom line is, we understand what's in front of us."
By the numbers
Third-down conversions by the Ravens in the second half. The Broncos had allowed only two in the second half all season, including none in their previous four games.
The longest reception (in yards) by Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who had averaged 11.4 yards per catch.
Percent completion rate by Joe Flacco (20-for-25), tying the Ravens' single-game mark. Elvis Grbac completed 80 percent of his throws in two games in 2001.
Yards on rookie Lardarius Webb's kickoff return for a touchdown. It was the fifth kickoff returned for a touchdown in Ravens history (including playoffs).
Yards allowed by the Ravens' defense, which is the fewest by a Denver offense since 2003.