BALTIMORE — Instead of being dominated by Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning, the Baltimore Ravens’ defense held its ground through some effective strategic gambits to slow down the top passing game in the league.
Ultimately, though, the Ravens came up short against the undefeated Colts during a 17-15 loss Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
However, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison came up with a sound game plan to contain Manning as the NFL’s top quarterback was intercepted twice by safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry and limited to one touchdown pass.
The Colts committed a season-high three turnovers.
“We did a great job of trying to make everything look the same to Peyton trying to keep him off-balance, keep him from getting a read on me and Ed and forcing him into bad decisions,” said Landry, who leads the Ravens with four interceptions. “Usually, he does a lot of things pre-snap because if he knows what you’re doing, he’s going to pick you apart. We just tried to give him the same looks and, hopefully, he couldn’t get a read on us.”
Playing without injured Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ top pass rusher, Baltimore never sacked Manning as he completed 22 of 31 passes for 299 yards and an 85.3 passer rating.
The Ravens changed up their front seven rotation.
Instead of starting rookie outside linebacker Paul Kruger in place of Suggs, the Ravens deployed strongside linebacker Jarret Johnson at Suggs’ spot for the majority of the game.
Kruger had taken snaps with the first-team defense all week and also during warmup drills Sunday. They also used defensive ends Dwan Edwards and Trevor Pryce on the field at the same time and gave Jameel McClain more playing time than usual.
McClain got the start, recording one tackle.
There were no sacks, but they did hurry Manning on occasion and disrupted his timing. The substitution pattern worked.
“I thought Greg did fantastic, I thought it was a really good game plan,” Pryce said. “I don’t think the players helped him as much as he helped us. It was a great game plan. When you lose, nobody does well no matter what you did.”
The Colts’ prolific offense was limited to two touchdowns and a field goal, generating 375 yards of total offense and converting half of their red-zone opportunities.
“We wanted to get after them and had a pretty good idea of what they were going to try to do to us,” Edwards said. “Shoot, we got some turnovers, forced some turnovers and that’s really all you can ask.
“Like most of our games, we lose by that much. We did some good things, but, unfortunately, came up short. You’d like to say we did a pretty good job on defense, but we gave up too many points obviously.”
Manning had 192 yards by halftime, but completed just five passes in the second half for 107 yards.
“I thought the defense played well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “In the first half, we probably gave up more yards than we wanted to, but you will against Peyton Manning. I would have liked to get one stop in the red zone, at least. As the game went on, we played really, really well on defense.”
For the season, the Colts are averaging 398.5 yards of total offense and have outscored opponents 269 -157.
Manning leads the NFL with 21 touchdown passes, a 69.8 completion percentage and 3,171 yards.
This wasn’t one of his better games, and he traditionally excels against Baltimore.
“They played their worst game,” running back Ray Rice said. “If Peyton Manning thinks he played a good game, he’s fooling himself.”
INJURY UPDATE: Starting cornerback Fabian Washington sprained his left knee in the second half and was carted off the field.
He’s scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam today.
"They’re just saying it’s a knee sprain," he said. "I hope so, I definitely hope so. I hope that’s not my last play of the season. It’s just a knee sprain.
"I’m just a little banged-up. We’ll see what happens here."
Washington landed awkwardly on the side of his leg and had to be carried off the field by trainers.
"It just stuck to the ground on me," Washington said.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata played for the first time in two games as he returned from a sprained right ankle.
Ngata played less snaps than he usually does, recording two tackles, one for a loss.
The ankle didn’t appear to limit his mobility much.
"It felt all right, I just have to get used it," Ngata said. "There’s still some things I can’t do. I have to work on it during the week and get it stronger."
Ngata was penalized for a personal foul during the Colts’ game-winning drive when he dove and landed on top of wide receiver Pierre Garcon. Garcon had already been tackled by Paul Kruger.
"I didn’t know if he was down," Ngata said. "I know he got tripped up and I wanted to make sure he was down. I thought I was kind of airborne before he was down. It is what it is."
Tight end Todd Heap played through the pain of a sore rib, catching two passes.
“I battled through the game,” he said. “I’m obviously sore. We’ll see how it feels.”
LIMITED PLAYING TIME: Kruger only played a handful of snaps, recording one tackle.
It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for the Ravens to pretend that the second-round draft pick was going to start only to not play him much at all.
“I’m not really worried about that right now,” Kruger said. “We just lost a big game. I don’t know how many plays I took.”
SHUT DOWN: Colts speedy defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis entered this game with a combined total of 18 sacks.
They head back to Indianapolis with the same total as offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher did a commendable job of protecting quarterback Joe Flacco.
“We did a good job, but that doesn’t feel as good because we lost,” Gaither said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, we did this well or that well,’ when you come up short. It’s just not the same. You take the positives from this game and you try to go forward with that."
QUICK HITS: Cornerback Samari Rolle, who’s out for the season after undergoing his second neck surgery this year, said he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll play next season. Rolle has said previously that he’s leaning toward retirement. "I’ve had it twice the last two years, so I don’t know what the deal is right now," Rolle said. “I tried last year. I just have to go with the best advice I get when it settles down. I thought I was going to play this year." … The Ravens deactivated third quarterback John Beck, running backs Matt Lawrence (knee) and Jalen Parmele, Suggs (sprained right medial collateral ligament), offensive tackles Tony Moll and Oniel Cousins, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and nose guard Kelly Talavou. Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes was up, but wasn’t involved much … The Colts deactivated kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee), wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee), quarterback Jim Sorgi (right shoulder), cornerback Kelvin Hayden, running back Mike Hart, defensive back Aaron Francisco, tight end Gijon Robinson and offensive guard Mike Pollak. … The Ravens’ game captains were free safety Ed Reed, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Flacco, center Matt Birk, McClain and Johnson. … Wide receiver Derrick Mason caught a season-high nine passes for 142 yards. … Rice registered 100 yards of total offense for the seventh week in a row with 71 rushing yards and 64 receiving on seven receptions. … Reed’s interception gives him 46 for his career for 1,255 return yards. … Lewis’ forced fumble on tight end Tom Santi was the 14th of his career. …. As part of their annual Thanksgiving food drive, the Ravens collected $35,354 and 26 pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.