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What we learned Thursday: Broncos chasing 2007 Pats

Despite the 49-27 final score Thursday night, the Denver Broncos actually trailed the Baltimore Ravens 17-14 coming out of halftime. The key sequence of the game came after a third-and-9 play for Denver early in the third quarter.

Wes Welker dropped a pass, but the officials called it a catch and a first down. Ravens coach John Harbaugh had time to challenge the play, but he chose not to. One play later, Demaryius Thomas took a pass 34 yards. Two plays later, the Broncos had the lead. By the middle of the quarter, the score was 35-17.

That's just how fast the Broncos' offense can turn a game around.

Here's what else we learned Thursday:

  1. The Broncos' backfield is going to drive fantasy footballers crazy this season. Knowshon Moreno dominated playing time in the first half, with Ronnie Hillman as the change-of-pace back. Rookie Montee Ball operated as the clock-killer as well as the goal-line back of choice. Until the coaching staff is comfortable with Ball's pass protection, that's likely the way it will stay.
  1. We noted early this week that Welker is a major upgrade over Brandon Stokley because of his quickness advantage in separating from coverage and making plays after the catch. That was abundantly clear Thursday, as Welker converted a series of key third downs and found the end zone twice, while Stokley looked a player pulled off his couch three weeks ago.
  1. The Ravens will have to rely more on undrafted rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown and less on tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark. We credited Dickson with four dropped passes. Clark's drop of a potential touchdown was one of the game's turning points. Neither tight end moves well.

The Ravensdesperately miss Dennis Pitta.

  1. We've been saying all offseason that the Ravens' overhauled defense actually is improved this season. That wasn't the case against the league's most explosive offense.

Jimmy Smith and Michael Huff got lost in coverage several times, and Peyton Manning attacked Lardarius Webb all night. This was the first time in franchise history that the defense allowed six touchdowns, much less seven.

  1. Broncos strong safety Duke Ihenacho, undrafted out of San Jose State last year, went from third string to first string in the first three weeks of training camp. He followed up a strong preseason with 12 tackles and three passes defensed to team with Shaun Phillips (2.5 sacks) and Wesley Woodyard (10 tackles, two quarterback hits, 0.5 sacks) as the defensive stars of the game.
  1. Denver's offense is borderline unfair with Welker and Julius Thomas as mismatches exploiting single coverage. The Ravens' secondary won't be the only one embarrassed as Peyton Manning chases the 2007 New England Patriots' record of 589 points.
  1. With so many offenses moving to up-tempo, no-huddle attacks, NFL fans should brace for more passing records to fall in 2013. The combined 104 pass attempts by Manning and Joe Flacco are a new regular-season record for a non-overtime game.

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