Posted by Uncle Rico 2:40 PM ET
There were a number of factors – including horrendous officiating, a “chunk” from mostly reliable kicker Matt Prater and an ill-timed Peyton Manning interception – that led to the Broncos 38-35 overtime loss to Baltimore in the AFC semi-finals on Saturday, but none stand out more than head coach John Fox’s ultra conservative play calling and safety Rahim Moore’s epic blunder in (not) performing his deep-half zone responsibilities on Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown with under 50 seconds left in regulation and the Broncos leading 35-28.
As Andy Benoit wrote in The Fifth Down New York Times blog, the result of the game was more about Denver’s miscues than anything else:
“This [game] belongs in the discussion of ‘greatest playoff games of all time. It’s hard to give it the nod, though, because the most dramatic play and the most dramatic decision were more about one team’s mistakes than about another team’s greatness. The mistakes came from the Broncos… John Fox telling Peyton Manning to take a knee with half a minute to go in regulation when the Broncos had acceptable field position (own 20 yard-line) and two timeouts. Why are you paying Manning more than $1 million a game if you’re not going to lean on him in that situation?”
David Ramsey of the Colorado Springs Gazette thinks Fox’s cowardice doomed Denver. Per Ramsey, “the Broncos had a chance to retaliate after one of the most devastating mistakes in Colorado sports history. Here’s what coach John Fox did instead: He proclaimed – to his players, to a jammed stadium, to television viewers around the world – his lack of faith in his offense. He worried about, using his words, the “bad stuff” that might happen. Bad stuff did happen, largely because of Fox’s cowardice. He doomed his Broncos to a 38-35 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens.”
Peter King called Fox’s decisions Coaching Negligence 101.
As the Atlanta Falcons proved yesterday, 31 seconds is enough time to move the offense in position to attempt a field goal. Fox also refused to let Manning throw on third and seven during the Broncos attempt to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter. Instead Fox directed a between the tackles Ronnie Hillman run that went nowhere and the Ravens got the ball back, ultimately tying the game on Moore’s inexplicable decision to take himself out of the Flacco to Jones play by switching to a backpedal at the last second and going for an interception as opposed to knocking the ball down or at the very least ensuring Jones did not score in the event the reception was made. Moore’s failure to understand his responsibilities given the circumstances is the biggest gaffe in the history of the Denver Broncos.
George Bretherton’s second-by-second examination of the play notes that if Moore had just made the tackle – never mind breaking up the pass – Denver would have still been in great shape:
“How many breakdowns were there on this play? Consider: Had Moore been late to cover Jones but had still made the tackle, the Broncos would still have been in good shape. Flacco and the Ravens linemen were still more than 50 yards up the field. It had taken 18 seconds from the time Flacco was tackled on a 7-yard run on the previous play to when he was able to take the snap on third down. It most likely would have taken at least 25-30 seconds to take the next snap, which would have left the Ravens with one or possibly two more plays.”
Moore defied the odds of probability. According to ESPN’s stats and info win probability model, the Broncos had 97.2% chance to win the game just before Jones’ TD. That’s how close the Broncos were to hosting the New England Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. In a matter of seconds, the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage was squandered.
And it’s not as if Moore had a good game otherwise. Jeff Legwold confirmed what was obvious to many Broncos fans watching the game – Moore blew his assignment on Torrey Smith’s first TD as Champ Bailey was expecting deep help from the free safety on the pass play:
“That said, after breaking down Bailey’s games for years, it appears he expects help on the first scoring pass to Smith simply because of the way he’s aligned at the snap. He looks to have outside leverage and plays the play that way throughout. With outside leverage, or playing the outside shoulder of the receiver, that would indicate he thinks he has help from a safety to the inside. He played the play that way, and he rarely fumbles that kind of assignment, and the safety (in this case Rahim Moore) moves upfield to take a receiver crossing over the middle. Moore may have thought the ball was going to the underneath receiver so was trying to make the play there. Or Bailey got the call wrong or Moore got the call wrong.”
Now, the offseason begins. It’s your move John Elway.