BALTIMORE - There's no doubt that once the final whistle was blown and the Ravens took the wild card win over the Colts , talk among fans began on what the birds of Baltimore would need to do to pull off the divisional playoff win against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
While the Ravens have bested the Broncos, 5-4 when facing them all-time, Manning's stats bring some concern to even the most die-hard fans. Manning is 6-3 against the Ravens and is expected to hit Sports Authority Field at Mile High with plenty of momentum as he's coming off what is arguably one of the most historic injury comebacks in NFL history. Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts after surgeries to his neck and spine, and in his first season with Denver has been record-setting.
Who would have guessed he would have done it while there is still concern over the grip in his throwing hand following the surgeries. The concern is evidenced by a glove he wore twice in cold weather situations this season. It's the only time Peyton Manning has ever worn a glove.
It's likely Manning will again wear the glove Saturday as the temperature in Denver is forecast around 20 degrees, but the glove is not likely to give the Ravens an advantage. Manning wore the glove in week 16 and 17 wins over Cleveland and Kansas City, and his passing percentage actually saw improvements from previous weeks and previous games against the two teams.
Those that follow Manning closely in Denver, like Mikie Klis of The Denver Post, say the glove even seems to take the wobble out of his throws.
So, if the glove isn't a factor, what do the Ravens need to do to take home a win against a team head coach John Harbaugh described at a Monday press conference as "one of the more complete teams in the league."
The stats show the Ravens will need to score first and get up by at least nine as early in the game as possible. Despite his accomplishment in October of leading the Broncos to the largest comeback win in Monday Night Football history and tying the record for largest comeback win for a road team, Manning's passing percentage is lowest when he is down by two or more scores. He has thrown less passes in those situations, completed less and been sacked frequently.
"You can't win the game if you don't get ahead Harbaugh said. "You gotta get ahead, and you have to stay ahead."
Harbaugh admitted getting behind on a quarterback like Manning allows him some flexibility with the offense that can make things even more difficult.
"Peyton keeps the pressure on you, and they can play a little more free if they've got a lead," he said.
Harbaugh said the plan is to keep the ball moving on offense and make the needed first downs. On defense, he says they will be working to confuse and pressure the quarterback Ravens safety Bernard Pollard describes as a MacBook.
If the Ravens jump out early and are able to minimize Manning, they potentially create a situation where Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno is forced to beat them on the ground. Moreno has struggled to turn out what is typically expected of an NFL starting running back as he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency.
What was arguably his best performance of his six-game regular season came against Baltimore as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, scored a touchdown and totaled 115 yards.
But, that game was a game in which there was no Ray Lewis.
Saturday's kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
ALTITUDE Harbaugh says there are concerns about altitude but nothing that shouldn't be addressed in time for Saturday's game. The team is planning on practicing in Denver the night before, among other things, in prep for the altitude difference. He says the team's in very good shape and physically able to handle the difference.
GO JOE Harbaugh said Monday that there has to be some flexibility in the pocket. He said he also believes that Joe Flacco being able to establish a deep threat in any game opens other windows. "Moving the pocket has been a goal of our, and it's going to be important in this next game also..."
McGahee to return? (From The AP) Broncos running back Willis McGahee says his rehabilitation from an injured knee is on track, but "if we played a game tomorrow, no I couldn't go." McGahee tore a ligament in the knee Nov. 18 and the Broncos placed him on recallable injured reserve. He is eligible to return to practice Tuesday and could play in the AFC title game if Denver makes it.
The 10th-year running back, who led the team with 731 yards rushing this season despite the injury, said he'd know more about how the knee responds if he's allowed to suit up for practice Tuesday. Coach John Fox said he would update McGahee's status after Tuesday's practice.