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12/16/2012 10:03 PM EST
Broncos rout Ravens 34-17 for 9th straight win
DENVER 34, BALTIMORE 17

By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The Denver Broncos no longer can be considered
a notch below the best in the AFC, nor can they be viewed as a
team that can succeed only when Peyton Manning puts up dazzling
numbers.



Their 34-17 rout of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday showed just
how good these Broncos can be.



Chris Harris returned an interception 98 yards for a
momentum-turning touchdown, and Denver cruised to its ninth
straight victory in surprisingly easy fashion.



"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."



Manning threw for 204 yards and a score in his ninth consecutive
win against Baltimore, the first with the Broncos (11-3).



But he was merely a role player in this one, because Denver's
defense dominated the Ravens, who sputtered in their first game
with Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator.



This was supposed to be a test for Denver, which was 0-5 in
Baltimore and was eager to face a quality opponent on the road.



"Pat Bowlen has owned the team for 29 years and has averaged 10
wins a season, but it's the first time he's won in this
building," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I was proud to see that
for him."



Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a
first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris stepped in front of
Anquan Boldin, picked off a pass by Joe Flacco and sprinted down
the right sideline with Flacco in pursuit. The quarterback
tripped up Harris, who tumbled into the end zone, leaving Flacco
flat on his stomach and with a cut lip.



"He just ran the out route and I was waiting to see when he was
going to look back at the quarterback," Harris said. "As soon as
he looked back, I looked back and the ball was there. I just
made a play on the ball."



It was the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos
history, and it turned a close game into a rout.



"I made a mistake. No other way to say it," Flacco said.



"Baltimore had some momentum there on the drive and looks like
they're probably going to get the touchdown - plus they get the
ball the first series of the second half," Manning said.



"So just a huge play. The turnover is good, the fact that he
took it all the way to the house for a touchdown was even
bigger. Big play, big swing in the game, in the momentum. I
thought it kind of jump-started everything in the second half
for us."



The Ravens (9-5) were playing their first game under Caldwell,
who replaced the fired Cam Cameron. Baltimore's offense
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.



"We couldn't get anything going until late," coach John Harbaugh
said.



Baltimore has lost three straight - including two in a row at
home for the first time since December 2007.



Despite the defeat, the Ravens qualified for the playoffs for a
fifth straight season when Pittsburgh lost to Dallas on Sunday
night. That gave the Ravens a wild-card berth, but they hope to
enter the postseason as division champions.



Baltimore still leads the AFC North, but its lead has shrunk to
one game with two to play.



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



Caldwell's debut was a resounding flop. Flacco went 20 for 40
for 254 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception. Ray Rice
ran for 38 yards on 12 carries and the Ravens produced a meager
56 yards rushing.



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, appears poised to reach the
postseason with confidence and momentum. The AFC West champions
haven't lost since Oct. 7, at New England. The Broncos, who can
still capture the top seed in the conference, finish with home
games against Cleveland and Kansas City.



Baltimore's first offensive series under Caldwell lasted three
plays and ended badly. 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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