The 2013 NFL season kicks off tonight with one heck of a matchup between last year’s Super Bowl winning quarterback and MVP Joe Flacco, left, who beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in miraculous fashion to go on an improbable championship run. (Reuters)
DENVER — The Denver Broncos have had nearly eight months to stew over a stunning season-ending loss in January — one that propelled the Baltimore Ravens on their surprising run to a Super Bowl championship. Denver has a chance to exact some revenge when they host the Ravens tonight in the NFL’s season-opening game. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had won nine straight against the Ravens, including a 17-point rout a month earlier, before Baltimore’s 38-35 double-overtime playoff victory.
“I’ve got a pretty good feeling that the Broncos fans are going to make us remember (and) think about everything that they want to,” coach John Harbaugh told the Ravens’ official website. “We know the environment we’re going into. It will be the same environment, or even tougher, than the one that we faced in January. And we’re excited about that.”
Much has changed for both teams since Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco averted a certain defeat with a 70-yard tying touchdown strike to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds to play in regulation. Baltimore has undergone a dramatic roster overhaul, with future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis sliding into retirement, perennial Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed lost to free agency and the trade of Super Bowl hero Anquan Boldin to San Francisco. Flacco became the league’s highest-paid player, while Denver added some key pieces to fortify Manning’s offense.
This year is different,” said Harbaugh, who won family bragging rights by leading his Ravens past a San Francisco team coached by his younger brother Jim in the Super Bowl. “But in a sense every year is a new season. It’s not like we have to forget the Super Bowl in order to move onto the next season. We’re capable of being proud of the accomplishment and moving on to the next thing.”
The Ravens will likely go only as far as Flacco will take them. And last year, that was a Super Bowl, despite an average 2012 statisically from the league’s new money man.
Flacco’s regular-season numbers were ordinary — 3,817 yards with 22 TD passes and 10 interceptions — but he was off the charts in the postseason with 11 scoring passes and zero picks en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors. Third-year speedster Torrey Smith heads an inexperienced receiving corps that suffered a jolt when starting tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip, putting his season in jeopardy. Ray Rice has rushed for at least 1,143 yards in four straight seasons and leads all NFL backs with 278 receptions during that span, but questions abound on a defense that surrendered nearly five points more per game in 2012 than in the previous season.
Manning, meanwhile, returned to football after nearly two years away and had one the best seasons of his long career. He guided Denver to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and 11 consecutive wins to close the regular season after sitting out much of 2012 and all of 2011 due to multiple neck surgeries. Wideouts Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech and Eric Decker both went over 1,000 yards and combined for 179 catches and 23 touchdowns and will be joined by reception machine Wes Welker, who had at least 111 catches in five of six seasons with New England.
Moore welcomes the help, even though he anchored one of the NFL’s most successful receiving corps last year.
“It’s about the team,” Moore told ESPN.com. “We all suffered. But the good thing about it is it’s a whole new year. Nobody remembers what you did last year.”
That being said, Moore likes his team’s chance to reach the AFC title game, and this time the Broncos plan to advance.
“I think as a team, this is our year,” Moore said. “I think we’re going to do some big things. It’s not going to be easy. Not at all. We have to remain the hunters. But we do have a chip on our shoulders, too.”
Broncos welcome rookie running back Montee Ball, who set the FBS record for career touchdowns but will open the season as the backup to Ronnie Hillman. Denver also has a huge void to plug on defense after sack-master Von Miller was suspended six games for violating the league’s drug policy.
But Miller’s off-the-field issues have been overshadowed by a growing controversy coming into the game.
The big Flacco banners placed in Denver by the NFL to promote the season opener are not going over well with Broncos fans.
The large banners featuring the Ravens quarterback are part of the league’s marketing campaign for its “Kickoff” game.
One of the Flacco banners is displayed next to a similar one of Broncos quarterback Payton Manning. Even Manning wondered aloud why the opponents’ quarterback is featured so prominently in a rival’s city.
“Yes, it is (strange),” Manning told KOA-AM radio. “I’ve never heard of anything like that for a regular-season game.”
A large Flacco banner is displayed on Sports Authority Field and severall smaller ones are hanging in downtown Denver.
Some Broncos fans have started an online petition to have the Flacco banners removed.
“It was like insult to injury, man,” Marquis Benjamin, a resident of northeast Denver, told The Denver Post. “After what transpired in the playoffs, with Joe Flacco of all people to now be in the center of the city? … At first I was like, they’re just promoting the whole football season, but when it started to create and issue, I was like — this is disrespectful.”
Good thing they can settle this on the field tonight.