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Broncos rout Ravens 34-17 for 9th straight win

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Broncos rout Ravens 34-17 for 9th straight win

BALTIMORE (AP) The Denver Broncos are gathering momentum and confidence as they head toward another trip to the playoffs.

And the Baltimore Ravens? Well, after three straight defeats, they're running out of time to right themselves as they stagger to the finish of what was once a very promising regular season.

The Broncos (11-3) rolled to their ninth straight victory Sunday, using a 98-yard interception return by Chris Harris to build a 17-point halftime lead en route to a surprisingly easy 34-17 victory.

The win was especially satisfying for the Broncos because it came without Peyton Manning putting up spectacular numbers. Manning went 17 for 28 for 204 yards and a touchdown.

The defense, however, dominated a Baltimore attack run by Jim Caldwell, whose debut as an NFL offensive coordinator was a dud. The Ravens finished with 56 yards rushing, including a meager 38 from Ray Rice on 12 carries.

``We shut the run down,'' nose tackle Justin Bannan said. ``We set the tone in the first half and kind of went from there.''

This was supposed to be a test for Denver, which was 0-5 in Baltimore and was eager to defeat a quality opponent on the road. Given the result, the Broncos aced the exam.

``To come in here and get a win like this against the Baltimore Ravens, that doesn't happen,'' Bannan said. ``I'm very proud of our team.''

The biggest play of the game was turned in by Harris, whose pivotal interception return occurred in the closing seconds of the first half. At the time, the Ravens (9-5) appeared poised to close to 10-7. Instead, Baltimore left the field at halftime down by 17.

Game over.

``You come to the Ravens' house and beat them handily, it's definitely a statement game,'' Harris said. ``We definitely wanted to show to everybody that we're an elite team.''

And what are the Ravens? After a 9-2 start, Baltimore has lost three straight overall for the first time since 2009 and two in a row at home for the first time since December 2007.

The Ravens clinched a playoff berth as a wild-card team when Pittsburgh lost to Dallas on Sunday night. Baltimore hopes to begin its fifth straight postseason run as AFC North champions, a feat that can be accomplished with one win in the last two games.

For that to happen, the Ravens must improve.

``We either put it on our shoulders, get it fixed, or we'll weed ourselves out like the other teams in the league,'' Rice said.

The Ravens' offense was playing its first game under Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron. Baltimore sputtered in the first half, gaining only 119 yards and committing two turnovers that led to 10 Denver points.

It was 31-3 in the fourth quarter before Flacco threw touchdown passes of 31 and 61 yards to tight end Dennis Pitta. Flacco went 20 for 40 for 254 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception.

``All we can do is put this one behind us and realize what we have ahead of us,'' Pitta said. ``We still have an opportunity to win the division. We've just got to get back to work. We're going to get it done.''

Perhaps, but a rash of injuries and defeats isn't doing much for the team's confidence.

``We're a 9-5 football team and we feel like we're 0-14 right now,'' Flacco said.

Baltimore's previous two defeats were by three points apiece. This one wasn't even close, and the stadium was near empty in the middle of the fourth quarter.

``As a player, I am embarrassed for our city,'' safety Ed Reed said.

Denver, on the other hand, hasn't lost since Oct. 7, at New England. The AFC West champions, who can still capture the top seed in the conference, finish with home games against Cleveland and Kansas City.

``We just try to get better every week,'' coach John Fox insisted. ``We're not measuring ourselves right now. We need to measure ourselves at the end to be the best.''

Baltimore's first offensive series under Caldwell lasted three plays and ended as Flacco fumbled on a third-and-1 plunge and the Broncos recovered at the Denver 47, which led to a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

In the first quarter, Baltimore totaled 21 yards on 12 plays, punted three times and lost a fumble.

Denver went up 10-0 when Jacob Hester ran in from the 1 to cap an 11-play, 78-yard drive. Baltimore answered with three more unproductive plays before punting. On their fifth drive, the Ravens finally got their initial first down - on a 14-yard run by Bernard Pierce with eight minutes left in the half.

Pierce eventually left the game with a concussion, as did wide receiver Torrey Smith, who hit his head after attempting to make a leaping catch near the sideline in the third quarter.

Denver pulled away with two third-quarter touchdowns. Manning threw a 51-yard scoring pass to Eric Decker, and after the Ravens went three-and-out, Knowshon Moreno ended a 39-yard drive with a 6-yard run to make it 31-3.

Decker caught eight passes for 133 yards and Moreno finished with 118 yards rushing on 22 carries.

NOTES: Rice passed 1,000 yards rushing for a fourth straight season. ... Terrell Suggs returned for Baltimore after missing one game with a torn biceps and made one tackle. ... Hester's score was the second rushing touchdown of his career and the first since his rookie season in 2008. ... Pitta had seven catches for 125 yards.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.