DENVER —** In the Broncos' 19-13 win over the Ravens, their final drive—a 17-play, 81-yard, nearly 11-minute behemoth—may have given the most complete look of what they'd like their offense to be. They fought out of their own end zone, had five first downs, ran the ball efficiently and controlled the clock to simultaneously build their lead while confining Baltimore to a small window for its own last drive.
But before that, the offense had been stagnant. In the third quarter, the offense had four drives. The first ended in a pick-six, and the other three ended in punts.
Aqib Talib and Darian Stewart's interceptions helped lead the Broncos to a 19-13 win over the Ravens.
The offense would regroup and despite starting from under the shadows of their own goalposts, they would put together the most lasting look at how they might ideally see their offense.
"There was a real sense of urgency amongst everyone in the offense to go out there and make something happen," left guard Evan Mathis. "I think a lot of us were ready for that and a little frustrated based on everything that had gone on earlier, and we went out there and played with a sense of urgency and just marched it down the field. It would have been nice to get a touchdown out of it, but it was good to get what we got."
The drive put the Ravens on their heels a bit, and though they stiffened to hold the Broncos to a field goal, the damage was done. Baltimore hurried trying to muster a touchdown drive and came up short, turning the ball over on an interception by former Raven Darian Stewart.
"It might be different week to week, but we needed that in that situation," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We ran the ball pretty well on that drive. The running backs were seeing the holes and the guys up front were moving guys around. That's what we're looking for and we want to see it ourselves. We look at ourselves as a physical team. To be able to do that against that defense—they pride themselves in being physical and being bullies—so that was a big drive for us, but we've got to have more of those instead of one per game."
Mathis called the drive "a true test of character," but he noted the offense's performance left much room for improvement.
"There's going to be plenty of stuff for us to grow from and learn from, when we go back and watch the tape—and that's not to take anything away from Baltimore, who was obviously one of the better defenses around the league," Mathis added. "It's good to get the win and, more importantly, it's going to be good to have the tape to learn from."
Manning rated his performance as "fair," given their initially solid first-quarter drives in which they drove for two field goals.
"We were kicked off to a good start. I thought we were going to have some pretty good things and felt in a pretty good rhythm early," he said. "We had to overcome some third-and-longs and had to do another one three plays later, which was tough. We had some self-inflicted wounds with some pre-snap procedure penalties."
Against a tough defensive front like Baltimore's, the rushing game didn't come easy at first, either. Running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for 70 yards on 25 carries (2.8 yards per carry), and 43 of those yards came on that fourth-quarter drive.
"There's plenty of work to be done," right guard Louis Vasquez said. "We struggled running the ball early in the game and then we had flashes late in the fourth quarter but that's what we needed to have going throughout the course of the game. It takes pressure off of Peyton, and overall it just helps the team. There's plenty of work to be done. We're nowhere near where we need to be, obviously, but that's the good thing about the NFL: You get a week—other than this week with the short turnaround—but you get some days to go over corrections and get better at things that we struggled at."
Manning and others have previously discussed how the offense shouldn't be expected to be a polished product at this point. With Mathis, rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo and first-year center Matt Paradis all getting their first game action together against Baltimore, the line will have to build cohesion that is not possible so early.
"Everybody is looking for these summaries of our offense and our team after Week 1 and I just don't think we're going to be able to do that. It's Week 1. We're a work in progress."
The Broncos will be able to make good on those steps soon, with a short turnaround in preparation for a trip to Kansas City, but for the time being, the frustrations can shrink momentarily under the weight of a hard-fought victory over one of the AFC's toughest defenses.
"Any time you win, no matter what team it is, four days away or one day away," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said, "any time you get a win in the National Football League, you've got to celebrate that, and I'm extremely happy."