BALTIMORE --For nearly the entirety of the first half, Denver's defense dominated the Ravens so thoroughly that Baltimore struggled to get out of its own backfield, much less move the chains and string a drive together.
But after six scoreless drives, with 2:09 remaining in the first half, the home team seemingly roared to life. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones to jumpstart Baltimore's drive.
Eventually the Ravens advanced inside the 5-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the first half, looking to cut into Denver's 10-0 lead.
With the Baltimore offense set to receive the second-half kickoff, a game-changing play seemed imminent. And by the conclusion of the following play, the complexion of the game was indeed drastically different. Just not in the way that the Ravens and their fans expected.
With the clock winding down, Flacco hurried a throw toward the pylon in the front left corner of the end zone. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris jumped the route and snatched the interception, immediately making his way up the sideline for a 98-yard, game-changing touchdown return.
"I was just waiting for the plays to come to me," Harris said of his second pick-six of the season. "I didn't really expect him to throw that out route. He threw it to me and it was, 'Make sure I score.'"
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil said he knew right away that Harris would make it to the end zone. After all, Dumervil had seen it happen once before. Back in October, in the first victory of what is now a nine-game winning streak, the second-year corner jumped in front of a pass by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and raced 46 yards into the end zone for a game-sealing touchdown.
"There's no way I can catch him," Dumervil said of his thoughts when he saw Harris secure the pick. "That's one thing he does well, he catches the ball and goes all the way. He did that again, so good for Chris."
But Harris didn't complete the longest interception return for a touchdown in Broncos history without a challenge. Flacco chased him nearly the length of the field, finally diving and knocking Harris off his feet at the goal line. But it was too late, as Harris fell after crossing the plane to make it 17-0 Broncos.
"It was right in front of our bench, so he had a lot of direction on the way down that sideline," Head Coach John Fox laughed.
Halftime did little to kill the momentum created by Harris. After the break, Denver held the Ravens to a field goal on their first drive of the second half, then added back-to-back touchdowns to stretch the lead to 31-3 midway through the third quarter. Despite a pair of late touchdowns by Baltimore, the Denver victory was never again in serious jeopardy.
"It's probably a 14-point swing," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Just a huge play by Chris undercutting (the pass). The turnover is good, the fact that he took it all the way to the house for a touchdown was even bigger."