Neither One Play Nor One Call Decided Broncos/Ravens

So today’s Denver Broncos game against the Baltimore Ravens was decided by an Darian Stewart interception in the end zone, but if only pass interference had been called on David Bruton Jr. like it was a few plays earlier.

Or so one might think, anyway.

As a sportswriter, I am all too familiar with how we like to describe games. We spend our time thinking about what’s the story in every football game. But like many fans, we fall into the trap of thinking about the final plays of a close game, leading to us writing how a close game comes down to one final play, which gets dissected by everyone.

I did tweet out that a former Raven decided the game (Stewart) so I’m guilty as charged about falling into the trap. But it’s a few minutes later that I step back and realize that, no, it wasn’t Stewart’s play alone that decided the game, nor was it the failure of the referees to call pass interference (for the record, Mike Pereira tweeted that it wasn’t PI).

Sticking with that final play, let’s ask ourselves what would have happened if, one play earlier, Steve Smith had caught what was a sure touchdown pass, one in which Bradley Roby never put a hand on the ball until after it bounced off Smith’s helmet.

With that said, there were multiple plays throughout the game that, had they gone the other way, we have a different story each time. Peyton Manning just overthrew Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone, but Sanders still could have made the catch. Manning was called for false start when no such thing happened (Ravens were actually offsides), but Manning later tried milking the play clock, was correctly called for delay of game and acted like he hadn’t.

Then there’s the multiple times in which both teams committed either defensive holding or pass interference. Aqib Talib got away with defensive holding on one play, as did Lardarius Webb on another play. The fact is, both the Broncos and Ravens played physical defense the entire game and, when you play physical defense, you are going to have more contact between receivers and defenders. The Broncos and Ravens are not alone — go watch a Seattle Seahawks game, for example, and you’ll see plenty of it. The same applies to any team who has a physical defense.

There were other happenings that affected both teams. The one that may have affected the Ravens the most was losing starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to a concussion early in the game. The effect was immediately noticeable, as the Broncos hounded Joe Flacco all day long, rushing five at will for most plays. Flacco got some throws off under pressure but never found his rhythm.

As for the Broncos, plenty of fans thought that the signing of Evan Mathis was going to instantly upgrade the offensive line, but today’s game showed that Mathis’ arrival wasn’t a magic cure — and no, signing Jake Long won’t do it, either. Regardless of which veterans the Broncos brought on board late in the preseason, it is going to take time for the offensive line to mesh together. And when you go up against a quality defense like the Ravens have, the O-line isn’t going to look dominant right away.

That’s not to say the Broncos can just ignore any issues, but it’s not time to hit the panic button, either. The Broncos will face some good defenses in the first few weeks (Kansas City, Detroit and Minnesota await in the next three games) and the O-line is going to have its work cut out. Any cries for benching Manning in favor of Brock Osweiler, signing Jake Long or bringing back Montee Ball aren’t going to instantly turn the Broncos into a world beater on offense.

It’s easy to fall into early-season narratives. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else, as one check of my Twitter feed will tell you. (Then again, sometimes my proper perspective comes through.) But, once the games over, comes the time to get out of “instant reaction during the game” mode and to think more critically about what really made the difference. And the closer you look at almost every game, the more you know that one play really didn’t decide the game.

(Note: You won’t always see me with reactions after each game, but when I do catch a game in real time and you want to know more about what I see, you can always follow me on Twitter at @BobMorrisSports. Or you can just catch me on Midweek Musings when I have more time to think about where the Broncos and other NFL teams are headed.)

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.