BALTIMORE, Md. - Monday Night Football has never been kind to the Denver Broncos, but tonight's debacle was downright cruel as the Baltimore Ravens put up a team record 31 points in the second quarter en route to a 34-23 victory.
The Broncos embarrassment began to unfold moments into the second quarter when Ravens quarterback Chris Redman erased a 3-0 Denver lead with a 23-yard touchdown pass to second-year tight end Todd Heap. The score ended a drought of 22 Baltimore possessions without a score.
The onslaught continued as top draft pick Ed Reed recorded the first blocked punt in Ravens history, giving Baltimore possession on the Denver 13-yard line. Three plays later Jamaal Lewis walked in from the 2-yard line and the Broncos found themselves trailing 14-3.
With the offense ineffective Denver was forced to rely on their number one ranked defense to help them out of the hole. Those hopes were quickly dashed when safety Deltha O'Neal was flagged for pass interference against wide receiver Brandon Stokley. His objection to the call turned physical and the third-year veteran was immediately ejected after bumping head linesman John Stabile.
Adding insult to injury, John Mobley and Chester McGlockton each added unsportsmanlike conduct penalties as Denver racked up five penalties for a total 51-yards during the Ravens possession. This collection enabled Baltimore to march downfield where kicker Matt Stover increased their lead to 17-3 with a 23-yard field goal.
Not to be outdone the Ravens defense got in the act, intercepting Brian Griese on Denver's next possession, returning it to the Broncos 36-yard line. Again, it was the Redman – Heap connection spelling doom for the Broncos.
Redman connected with Heap for a 33-yard gain then countered with a short three yarder to give Baltimore a commanding 24-3 second quarter lead.
Hard to imagine it could get any worse, but what was perhaps the most bizarre play in recent memory nailed the coffin shut for Denver.
With one second remaining in the first half, Jason Elam's 57-yard field goal attempt fell short in the end zone. The kick was picked up by Ravens returner Chris McAlister, who surprised a bewildered Broncos special teams unit by racing downfield 108 yards for a touchdown.
The return set a record as the longest field goal return in NFL history, erasing the previous mark of 104-yards set by Aaron Glenn of the New York Jets.
While it wasn't as disastrous as the first half, Denver's return from halftime proved to be an exercise in futility.
Ravens returner Robert Tate took the opening kickoff 64-yards to the Denver 33-yard line, helping to set up another Matt Stiover field goal, as Baltimore stretched its lead to 34-3.
The Broncos managed to chip away at the insurmountable lead during the third quarter as Reuben Droughns capped off an 11 play, 62-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge, his first career NFL score.
The lead shrunk further when Griese found Patrick Hape from the 2-yard line, but an attempt at a two-point conversion failed and Baltimore remained on top 34-16 entering the final quarter.
Denver hung around long enough for one final score as Griese engineered a 7-play, 62-yard drive, taking it in the final yard himself and cutting the Ravens lead to a more respectable 34-23.
Griese finished the evening connecting on 35 of 53 passes for 328 yards, but was intercepted three times.
With the embarrassment behind them, Denver now has six days to prepare to face division rival San Diego Chargers, who sit atop the AFC West with an undefeated 4-0 record.
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Ravens humiliate Denver 34-23
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