Broncos vs. Ravens: Blame John Fox for Inexcusable Loss

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The refs made bizzare calls about every six minutes. Peyton Manning threw an ugly interception during overtime. Champ Bailey looked more like Chump Snailey as he got beat up and down the field. And Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore made one of the worst defensive plays in postseason history to allow the Ravens a desperation touchdown before overtime.

But the real blame for this Denver Debacle lies at the frozen feet (or is it frozen head?) of coach John Fox.

His playcalling was beyond atrocious. If Fox made just one right decision, he would have helped his guys overcome all the other junk happening around them, and they advance. He wasn't up to the task. The Broncos had a 7-point lead with only 2:30 left to play. All Denver needed was one simple first down and the Broncos were headed to the AFC Championship game next week.

But no. Fox went Rush Limbaugh on us and called three simple, obvious running plays that resulted in nothing. In sports, the great ones -- the Sabans, the Belichicks -- play to win. Fox played not to lose.

And sure enough, that hesitation -- and many more hesitations to come -- cost Denver its season.

Baltimore got the ball back and quickly scored.

Still, Fox had a chance to make amends. But the Broncos unfathomably decided to kneel on the ball with :31 seconds left in regulation. At this point, Denver still had two timeouts remaining, a certain great named Manning at quarterback and a kicker who had made 15 of 20 field goals of more than 50 yards heading into the game.

With :31 left on the clock, the Broncos could have easily run five or six plays, two of them over the middle. They could have pushed the issue and played with urgency. Nope, not Fox. He was content to play not to lose.

Once again, in overtime, Fox had a chance to redeem himself. But he shackled Manning with a limited playbook. The plays were predictable, and the Ravens pounced.

You can blame Manning for throwing a mindless, across-the-body interception during the first ovetime period, which ultimately set up the game-winning field goal, but that would be a mistake. Manning was trying to make something -- anything -- happen at that point in the game because Fox wasn't given him any opportunities.

He gambled and lost.

But that's because his coach called some of the worst plays in postseason history. Twice the Broncos had 2nd and short during ovetime. Twice they ran the ball for no gain.

Repeat after me: With Peyton Manning as your quarterback, 2nd and short is a passing down. You take advantage of it. If it doesn't work, you come back and get the first down on the next play.

But not for Fox, who curled into a ball as the snow began to fall and the seaon melted into the Mile High air.