DENVER — John Elway has been down this lonely road before, trudging through the tunnel in deafening silence after a stunning loss at home as the AFC’s prohibitive Super Bowl favorite following a 13-3 regular season.
It happened to Elway the quarterback after the 1996 season when Denver lost to Jacksonville 30-27. It occurred again for Elway the executive in January when the Broncos were beaten 38-35 by Baltimore in the divisional round.
Elway rebounded the first time to win back-to-back Super Bowls. He said the pain of that pratfall against the Jaguars was the impetus to make them into champions.
“It was a great incentive for us to come back and have an even better year the following year,” Elway said.
After engineering a $125 million off-season spending spree and acquiring wide receiver Wes Welker and massive right guard Louis Vasquez – to help new center Manny Ramirez fend off the likes of Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata – Elway is aiming for history to repeat itself after this latest heartbreak.
But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looms larger than life in Denver, and not just because he engineered the stunning playoff upset with his 70-yard touchdown throw to Jacoby Jones that tied it at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation.
The NFL’s marketing machine put up gigantic banners of Flacco alongside Peyton Manning on the Broncos’ stadium to promote the league’s first game of the 2013 season.
Fans are furious, Manning is miffed and Flacco is flummoxed.
This flag flap could have been avoided had baseball’s Orioles moved their game Thursday night to accommodate the champs for a customary home kickoff.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Flacco said. “It’s not like they’re taking a home game away from us. They’re just making us play on the road maybe earlier than we wanted to.”
For the first time in the Ravens’ 18-year existence, Ray Lewis isn’t manning middle linebacker. Daryl Smith, who signed in June, is the veteran replacement.
Smith was part of a Ravens defensive revamp as they also said goodbye to starters Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams, and hello to former Bronco Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Michael Huff.
Flacco parlayed his fantastic playoff run into a six-year, $120.6 million contract, but also lost his two favorite targets as receiver Anquan Boldin was traded and tight end Dennis Pitta is sidelined with a fractured hip.