DENVER — Remember when Knowshon Moreno treated the Ravens defense like a washed-up puddle and jumped over Ed Reed?
We all do. It was a defining moment in the Broncos 34-17 rout in Baltimore in December. On a 20-yard rampage, Moreno hurdled Reed and delivered a message: The Ravens are simply in the way. The Broncos will race through, around or over the Ravens and win.
Take a closer look, however, and that play delivered a second message: The Ravens' 'D' still struts the blurry line between aggressive and downright dirty.
I watched the play in person at M&T Bank Stadium, then on the press-box TV, then on Sportscenter, then on replay. Reed didn't see Moreno jump over him. How's that?
Reed dipped his head, ready and willing for a helmet-first tackle.
Shame, shame, shame.
This is why Bronco Land should be nervous about Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game inside Sports Authority Field.
Not because the Ravens can win in Denver — only the Patriots can. Because the Ravens blur the line between clean and dirty. Questionable hits are central to their aging game.
Santa made his list, checked it twice, and so did the NFL. The Ravens 'D' was on it — often enough that the league office suspended Reed for one game after another helmet-to-helmet hit. That one came against Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
The suspension was overturned. Reed didn’t miss a game and was fined $50,000.
This is a faux pas in the NFL, coloring the Ravens defense as anything but great, hard-working, the standard of what a defense should be. All of those used to be true.
It was a mismatch when the Broncos showed us the Ravens should be feared no more, evermore.
With the Ravens 'D' on its last leg, I suspect Saturday's game will feature more than a few punishing hits that blur the line between dirty and clean. It is a proud defense that will seek high — and low — for an answer to Peyton Manning’s surging offense, which “embarrassed” the Ravens on their own field, as Reed said.
“I was not expecting (Moreno) to jump, honestly,” Reed told the Baltimore Sun after the game in December. “I couldn't react because I was dealing with a lot of sickness early in the game. I just wasn't all the way into it, honestly. I was dealing with flu symptoms and everything. I just kind of watched him jump over me.”
I wasn’t surprised how Baltimore advanced past Indianapolis on Sunday. Baltimore’s first quarter set the tone for an afternoon of intimidation: Twice the Ravens tackled a Colt by grabbing their helmet. They blurred the line of facemask penalties. They weren't flagged.
The result: Indy's receivers dropped many passes, hearing Ravens footsteps.
Mike Pereira, the former VP of officiating for the NFL, noted an unusually loud response with the Ravens in the playoffs.
“Wow. Active day on Twitter so far,” Pereira tweeted during the first quarter. “Good to have you all with me.”
The officials will be busy again Saturday in Denver.
Manning isn’t one to be intimidated. The QB has won nine straight games against Baltimore, including two in the playoffs. The Ravens haven’t beaten Manning since 2001, when Brian Griese was the quarterback here.
In the postgame locker room in Baltimore, I overheard one of the Broncos joking about Reed dropping his head as Moreno turned the Hall of Fame safety into a speed bump.
This is no joke: The Ravens ‘D’ has Ray Lewis, playing his final game in Denver, and enough pride to fill Chesapeake Bay. They won’t go quietly, or pleasantly, in Denver.
But it is a defense that survives on reputation, ranking 17th in the NFL, one spot ahead of the bumbling Raiders. To compensate, the Ravens will come to Colorado ready to push the line between football’s version of right and wrong.
The Broncos beat Atlanta's Dirty Birds to win their second Super Bowl, in 1999.
To reach their next Super Bowl, the Broncos must survive another set of dirty birds.
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