ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Try as they might, the Baltimore Ravens just couldn’t get under the skin or into the heads of the Denver Broncos, who were more concerned about talking up their opponents than trash-talking them.
Most of the Ravens were exceedingly complimentary of the Broncos on the eve of their rematch in the AFC divisional playoffs today in Denver. But some spent time excusing their 34-17 home loss to the Broncos last month with dismissals ranging from the soon-to-retire Ray Lewis and several others being out of the lineup to Denver’s receivers pushing off too much.
Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said after Baltimore’s wild-card win that the Ravens were glad to get another shot at the Broncos.
Asked how it will be any different than last time, he declared, “We’ll make it different.”
“I wanted Denver because they beat us,” said Boldin, who was shut out in the first meeting.
The Broncos, not big on bravado, shrugged it all off.
“We beat them, so of course they want to play us again,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “We’re up for the challenge.”
Those were about the brashest statements that came out of the Broncos’ locker room all week.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Denver running back Knowshon Moreno said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Fans aren’t buying it, and oddsmakers have installed the top-seeded Broncos (13-3) as more than a touchdown favorite. They haven’t lost in three months, are coming off a bye and playing at altitude against a team on a short week.
Although Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has four road playoff wins on his résumé, the Ravens were a mediocre 4-4 this season on the road, where he threw seven of his 24 touchdown passes.
Then, there’s Peyton Manning. Although he’s 0-3 lifetime in cold weather playoff games – today’s high will hover around 20 degrees with some snow expected — he has beaten the Ravens (11-6) nine times in a row, including twice in the playoffs.
The Broncos aren’t taking anything for granted, though. They pointed out all week that the last time the teams played, the Ravens were without Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshal Yanda, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and tight end Ed Dickson, all of whom will be available today.
“So, this will be a completely different game, a completely different test,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
Manning said he didn’t have any reaction to the Ravens saying they were eager for a chance to atone for that lopsided loss.
“I know they have some guys back that did not play in the first game,” Manning said. “… Those guys make a difference for their team. They made a difference for their team on Sunday holding their opponent to zero touchdowns. It’s an excellent defense, really no matter who’s in there, in my opinion, but certainly when they have all their other guys back, they’re extremely tough.”
Joining the praise parade, Broncos safety Rahim Moore gushed this week about swapping jerseys with his hero, Baltimore Pro Bowl selection Ed Reed, after last month’s game, and Champ Bailey pumped up Lewis, saying, “I know he’s going to miss the game, but I think the game will miss him more because there’s nobody like him.”
Following a 12-week layoff with a torn right biceps, Lewis led the Ravens with 13 tackles to spark an emotional win over Indianapolis in the final home game of his spectacular 17-year career last week. The 37-year-old middle linebacker intends to retire after Baltimore completes its playoff run.
A marquee at a Denver hotel not far from Sports Authority Field reads: “Join us for Ray Lewis’ retirement party at 2 p.m. Saturday.”
The Broncos would cringe at such braggadocio.
The weather may be blustery but they certainly aren’t, pointing out repeatedly that the Ravens are the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, and they’ve won at least one game in each of those trips.