It’s not that the Denver Broncos are obsessed with running up the score, but their defense would like to show a better finishing kick than it has in recent weeks.
For the seventh time in the last eight games, the Broncos gave up at least one fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, surrendering a pair of scoring passes from Joe Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta late in their 34-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
“We kind of slipped up at the end. We shouldn’t allow big plays like that,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do finishing the game strong. Next week that’s something we’ll emphasize, and come back next week and play better.”
The scores proved inconsequential Sunday, but dampened the mood of Denver’s defenders and offered them a starting point for their work heading into next week’s game against Cleveland: find a way to finish better than they have in the last three games, when they’ve been outscored 33-6 in the final quarter.
“Great defenses don’t do that. And if we want to become a great defense, we’ve got to play four quarters,” said cornerback Champ Bailey. “The first three were pretty good. The fourth quarter — it’s not who we are. We can’t keep putting that on film.”
Part of the Broncos’ final-quarter lapses has been because of the situations they’ve faced: with multi-score leads, they’ve dropped into deeper zones, meaning any big plays come from pressure mounted by their front four.
But Bailey sees something more: a lack of execution that he knows will doom the Broncos against the kind of teams they would have to defeat to claim a world championship: New England, Houston and Atlanta, all of whom defeated the Broncos in the first five weeks of the season before Denver began its nine-game winning streak,
“We just missed a few tackles, took a few bad angles, stuff like that,” Bailey said. “(The Ravens) made plays when they had to. We’ve just got to find a way to keep putting that pedal to the metal.”
A spate of early-game lapses defined the first six games of the Broncos’ season; that, above all, is why the Broncos started 2-3 and trail in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. The defense now hopes its late-game fades won’t define the season’s end.
TRENDING: The Broncos’ quest for offensive balance has tilted their run-pass ratio in recent weeks. After running on 40.7 percent of their plays in the first 11 games, the Broncos have run 51.4 percent of the time the last three weeks, and called a season-high 45 runs Sunday, the most ever called in a game that Peyton Manning has started in the NFL. The ground emphasis came after the Broncos began working more extensively on it in practice, believing that they would need a more consistent running game during the playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Broncos had committed at least one turnover in 20 consecutive games (including playoffs) heading into Baltimore, but snapped that streak Sunday. The defense’s two takeaways also squared the Broncos’ turnover margin; at one point in the second quarter against San Diego in Week 6, it dropped as low as minus-8 and had not been even for the season since Week 1.
PLAYER NOTES: RB Knowshon Moreno has as many 100-yard games in the last two weeks as he did in the first three and a half seasons of his career after gaining 118 yards on 22 carries in Baltimore on Sunday.
• WR Eric Decker caught eight passes for 133 yards and a touchdown Sunday, giving him his first 100-yard game since Week 3 and his second-highest yardage total of the year.
• DE Elvis Dumervil had a sack on the final play of Sunday’s game, snapping a skein of three consecutive games without a sack.
• CB Chris Harris had the longest interception return in Broncos history, a 98-yard runback for a touchdown that caused a 14-point swing at the end of the second quarter. Harris has scored twice on interception returns this year.
• LB/DE Von Miller saw his streak of games with at least one sack end at six. He nevertheless managed to hit Joe Flacco twice and finished with one tackle for a loss.
• RG Manny Ramirez started for the ninth time this season and was beaten for a first-quarter sack. The Broncos have allowed 19 sacks in the nine games Ramirez started and just two in the five games he didn’t.
INJURY IMPACT: RG Chris Kuper missed a second consecutive game after scar tissue in his left ankle became sore in the days leading up to the Broncos’ Dec. 6 win at Oakland. Kuper has only started five games this year because of various injuries.
• LB Wesley Woodyard returned to the lineup Sunday after missing the previous game with a sprained right ankle and had five tackles and a pass breakup.