Joe Mahoney/Associated Press file photo
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press file photo
ENGLEWOOD – The last time the Denver Broncos won a game in Baltimore, a baby-faced John Elway was making his second NFL start and producing his first career fourth-quarter comeback.
That was way back in 1983, before the Colts left for Indianapolis. The Broncos are 0-5 in Baltimore since the Ravens entered the league in 1996.
Champ Bailey doesn’t care. He has Peyton Manning on his side this time.
Manning is 8-0 against the Ravens since 2002 with half of those wins coming in Charm City, where the Broncos (10-3) will face the Ravens (9-4) on Sunday in the marquee matchup of a weekend brimming with big games.
Bailey puts no stock whatsoever in Denver’s dismal record in Baltimore that includes a 30-7 loss in 2009 and a 31-17 defeat a year later.
“We don’t have quite the same roster we had the last two times we’ve been up there,” Bailey said. “Hopefully that makes a difference.”
The biggest change, of course, is Manning, dubbed “Raven Killer” by his teammate Justin Bannan, who lost five times to him as a member of the Ravens from 2006 to 2009, with three of those losses coming in Baltimore.
Loathe to accept accolades or to compare this season or this team to any other, Manning doesn’t want to hear about all the wins he’s engineered in Baltimore.
“It’s kind of like I never like it when somebody says I lost four straight. I don’t agree when you say I won eight straight,” Manning said. “Those are team wins and different teams, different players playing in those games. I really can’t speak much to the past. All I can speak to is this year, and it’s been such a different year for me – different team and what not.”
Even taking into account the combined .356 winning percentage of their opponents during their eight-game winning streak, the Broncos are the hottest team in the NFL right now, and they’re breathing down the necks of both the Texans and Patriots – two teams they lost to early on – for one of two AFC playoff byes.
This is a chance to show everyone, including themselves, that they’re truly on a championship course, and what better barometer than Baltimore?
“This is one of the playoff-type situations, so it’s a great challenge ahead of us to see what we’re all about,” Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil said.
Although Baltimore coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this week and replaced him with Jim Caldwell, the Ravens’ two-game losing streak – their first since 2009 – largely can be attributed to a depleted defense that’s missing much of its star power.
Ray Lewis (triceps) and Terrell Suggs (biceps) have yet to play a game together this season, although both practiced this week, and Lardarius Webb is on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“You know, they’re not all gone,” said Broncos slot receiver Brandon Stokley, another former Raven. “They’ve still got Ed Reed back there in the secondary. So, no matter who’s in there, you play Baltimore in Baltimore, it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought game.”
The Broncos are preparing as though the injury-ravaged Ravens will have Lewis, their emotional leader, back on the field Sunday.
“He’s very intense, and there’s definitely a difference whenever I was there and he was at practice and then when he wasn’t at practice,” Stokley said. “He reminds me of Peyton, how Peyton is, he just raises everybody’s level of play up when he’s around. The work that they put in, the attention to detail that they have, guys see that, and guys know if these guys, as good as they are, are putting in that much work and attention to detail, then I have to do that, too.”
The Broncos, who last lost Oct. 7 in New England, quickly have acclimated themselves to their own excitable leader in Manning.
“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Bannan said. “I’ve played that guy a few times, a couple of times in the playoffs, and a guy like Peyton Manning, the pressure it puts on defensive coaches, when you’re putting that game plan in on Wednesday and you’re getting ready to play this guy, you wouldn’t believe the pressure and intensity the defensive coordinator feels to figure out what this guy’s doing.
“These guys would watch hours and hours and hours of film on him just to find something. I think he’s one of the few guys where it’s damn near impossible to find something on him that you can key on; he switches things up so well.”
The Ravens’ switch in offensive coordinators threw a wrinkle into the Broncos’ preparation, but they’re not expecting wholesale changes with Caldwell calling an NFL game for the first time in his career.
“I don’t think they’ll venture too far away,” Broncos’ head coach John Fox said. “Possibly there will be a little more no-huddle.”
Manning spent a decade in Indy under the tutelage of Caldwell, who was in his first year as Baltimore’s quarterbacks coach before taking the reins of the Ravens’ offense Monday.
“Jim Caldwell had a tremendous influence on me,” Manning said. “He was very organized, very detail-oriented, which, I’m a fan of that philosophy. He and I got into a good routine in meetings and on the practice field every day for the time we were together, when he was my quarterbacks coach, and I really thought he took my game to another level. He’s also been a tremendous friend and mentor to me. I miss being around him every day, and I miss his friendship.”
Nick Wass/Associated Press file photo