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Broncos' Fangio questions Ravens' integrity, sportsmanship

Coach upset Baltimore ran with three seconds left to tie record
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Posted at 1:39 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 17:02:00-04

ENGLEWOOOD, Colo. — Vic Fangio did not run or hide from his anger over how the Baltimore Ravens finished off Sunday's victory.

The Broncos coach questioned the Ravens' character and integrity after Baltimore boss John Harbaugh instructed his team to rush the ball with three seconds remaining to match an NFL record.

"Yeah, I kind of thought it was bulls—-. But I expected it from them. Thirty-seven years in pro ball I have never seen anything like that," Fangio said Monday. "But it was to be expected and we expected it. I just know how they operate. That's just their mode of operation. Player safety is secondary."

Leading 23-7, the Ravens took over at their own 20-yard line following a Drew Lock interception. They decided not to take a knee to run out the clock. The Broncos sensed something was up with offensive line coach Bill Kollar yelling toward the players on the field. Fangio began motioning for his defenders to move up as well, but it was too late as quarterback Lamar Jackson took the snap and ran 5 yards. It tied an NFL record as the Ravens rushed for 100 yards for a 43rd straight game, a mark shared with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-77).

If felt forced given that the Broncos were not defending the play — which is where the safety issue enters the equation — and Jackson admitted, "I'm not going to lie. I ain't really care about the record."

Harbaugh defended the call on Sunday.

"It's one of those things that's meaningful. It's a very, very tough record to accomplish. It's a long-term record. So, I'm not going to say it's more important than winning the game, for sure. It's certainly not," Harbaugh said. "But, as a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches, and that's something they'll have for the rest of their lives."

It is notable that Fangio worked for Harbaugh in Baltimore and later for his brother Jim at Stanford. Fangio's criticism of the play involved sportsmanship and safety, "all of it," he admitted. Given Fangio's experience in the game, it follows that he would take exception to a move that is not unlike a team violating the unwritten rules in baseball (stealing a base or swinging at a 3-0 pitch with a significant lead).

Harbaugh responded to Fangio's comments Monday, taking a swipe at the Broncos' strategy trying to score with time running out before Lock's turnover, saying he wasn't aware of "16-point play" and what throwing there had to do with winning. Teams trying to score meaningless points late in games, however, is more common than teams not taking a knee.

"I thought we were on good terms. We had a nice chat before the game. But I promise you, I’m not going to give that insult one second of thought," Harbaugh said. "What’s meaningful to us is not necessarily meaningful to them.”

While multiple Broncos player were annoyed on Sunday — defensive lineman Deshawn Williams and Shelby Harris reacted emotionally in real time — Broncos safety Kareem Jackson was focused on moving on.

"Honestly, I don't give a (crap) about that last play. I more so care about the plays throughout the game," Jackson said. "It's our job to stop them."

It was happening quickly, but the Broncos, in theory, could have instructed their defensive linemen to repeatedly jump into into the neutral zone, drawing whistles. Or they could have done it once to allow their defense to regroup and defend the run.

Combing through play lists, it is difficult to find precedent for a team running a ball with a large lead and three seconds remaining. The standard procedure when a comeback is not possible is to take a knee. Still, it was a bit surprising that Fangio offered stinging criticism — in fairness, he was not asked about it in the postgame presser — given his own "on to Pittsburgh" mantra Sunday.

Other than illuminating his dislike for the Ravens in general and Harbaugh specifically, Fangio's comments will have no impact on the bigger challenge: rebounding after the season's first loss.

It starts at quarterback where Teddy Bridgewater remains in concussion protocol. Fangio told me that Bridgewater could be out on the field before Friday, though that would likely involve doing football drills by himself on the side with trainers. Bridgewater can return to practice on Friday at the earliest, and must be cleared by Saturday to travel. Fangio has not ruled out the veteran playing, but was vague about whether Bridgewater could start without practicing.

Offensively, the Broncos went down the rabbit hole, losing their way and their effectiveness. They completed 19 of 37 passes for 178 yards and no touchdowns. They ran for 106 yards, but only rushed the ball four times in the second half.

"It's hard to (stay balanced) when you have a bunch of three-and-outs," Fangio said.

The Broncos remain hopeful that guards Dalton Risner (foot) and Graham Glasgow (knee) will return Sunday. Risner was close to playing against the Ravens, but his streak of 35 straight starts ended. ...

Cornerback Patrick Surtain II (chest) and receiver Diontae Spencer (chest) are considered day-to-day. ...

Cornerback Ronald Darby tested his hamstring before Sunday's game. He is eligible to practice on Wednesday. It's possible Darby and running back Mike Boone (quad) could return at Pittsburgh.

Fangio admitted that it seems like every week there's a bad play on special teams as they allowed a big punt return to set up a Ravens' second-quarter field goal. How do they get it fixed? "It's a good question; obviously it's something we've got to fix. We've been trying."