DENVER — Late in the week, Von Miller likened the Broncos' Week 4 matchup with the Ravens to an early-season playoff game.
In true postseason conditions, Denver would not have advanced, as the Broncos fell 23-7 to the Ravens and dropped from the undefeated ranks.
Denver's offense struggled for much of the game — especially after losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — and the defense could not prevent Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown from making their share of plays.
The Broncos jumped ahead early in the second quarter on a short touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Noah Fant, but the lead could have been even larger, as tight end Albert Okwuegbunam dropped a pass down the right sideline that would have resulted in a touchdown.
Following the Broncos' initial touchdown drive, the Ravens rebounded quickly on an eight-play, 75-yard drive to tie the score. Then, after the Broncos went three-and-out, the Ravens made their biggest play of the afternoon. On second-and-10 from the Denver 49, Jackson found a diving Brown for a 49-yard touchdown that gave Baltimore the lead for good.
"He stemmed for the outside and that's my leverage, and it [was] miscommunication with Kareem [Jackson]," Justin Simmons said. "I expected some post help, but that's why I'm so big on — I'm talking about it every week — communication. And there's a few communication mishaps within the secondary team like that, and a guy like Lamar who can create the scramble, plays like that will happen. So, you've got to clean up the communication."
Denver's offense couldn't muster many drives with Bridgewater still in the game, and the task got tougher in the second half after he suffered a concussion on the final offensive play of the first half. Bridgewater took a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play from Baltimore's Odafe Oweh, but the Ravens were not whistled for a penalty. Bridgewater was replaced by Drew Lock, who played the entire second half.
"Well I think his performance was just like the rest of the offense," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of the offense. "We just weren't good enough today after the one touchdown we got, and we really couldn't get anything going. We weren't getting it going with Teddy either after the touchdown drive, so I think it's more of a collective thing offensively than a quarterback thing."
The Broncos' defense only allowed three points in the second half prior to the final moments, but Denver ultimately didn't have enough offensive firepower to overcome their largest deficit of the season.
"It's unfortunate seeing Teddy go down, but as a defense, it's a chance for us," Simmons said. "Teddy is out and we see that Drew is in. Let's help him here. Let's give him a short field and get a takeaway. Let's get a three-and-out, have them backed up and hopefully you get good field position. Defensively, those are the things you talk about on the sideline and that you're focused on throughout the game. I just don't think we did enough to be able to help him towards the end of the game."
With the loss, the Broncos fell to 3-1 on the season with a trip to Pittsburgh awaiting the group in Week 5.
Jackson's deep pass to Brown felt like it changed the complexion of the game. The Broncos' defense had dominated early, holding Jackson to 2-of-6 passing for 26 yards on the first three drives, but Jackson got things going in the second quarter. On the play that gave the Ravens the lead for good, Brown split safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons and lunged into the air to make the catch. After a poor Week 3 performance in which Brown dropped several passes that would've resulted in touchdowns, he atoned for those mistakes with the big play.
The Broncos couldn't respond on their next drive, and it felt like momentum slipped away from Denver. The Broncos had their chances to cut into the lead in the second half, but after taking the early lead, the Broncos never seriously challenged Baltimore again.
After overcoming some poor performances on third down in the season's opening weeks, the Broncos couldn't fight through their struggles against the Ravens. Denver converted just three third downs on the afternoon — one of those conversions came with the game out of hand — and punted on 10 of their first 11 possessions. Punter Sam Martin punted just nine times combined through Denver's first three games. The Broncos' offensive struggles ran deeper than just their third down performance, as they faced third-and-long on repeated occasions.
"Too many of them were longer-yardage situations," Fangio said. "There were a lot of them that if we had gotten to at least some fourth-and-manageable starting early in the game, I was going to go for it on fourth down, but I never had an opportunity to."
One of the lone bright spots of the game came on the Broncos' lone touchdown drive, as rookie Javonte Williams ran through a slew of attempted tackles and carried Baltimore's Marlon Humphrey on his back for more than 20 yards. The North Carolina product picked up 31 yards on the carry and seemingly set the tone for the Broncos early in the game, as they found success against the Ravens on the ground. Denver couldn't ultimately maintain the momentum, but Williams run remains impressive.
"Yeah, I thought we ran it pretty good early," Fangio said. "Obviously, Javonte had a fantastic run, and I thought Melvin [Gordon III] was running really good, but it got bottled up there pretty good as the game wore on."
In addition to Javonte Williams earning an acknowledgement for his impressive run, rookie Caden Sterns posted the best game of his young career. The Broncos sent an extra rusher on many occasions to try to fluster Jackson, and Sterns recorded a pair of sacks.
Tight end Noah Fant led the team with six catches for 46 yards and his second touchdown of the season.