DENVER (AP) — The Denver Broncos can quell any doubts about their legitimacy Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and their star game-changers Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker.
The Broncos (3-0) entered October as one of five unbeaten teams in the NFL but their wins have come against the bottom three teams in the league, according to the latest AP Pro32 poll.
In the Ravens (2-1), they'll face a team that lost in overtime to the unbeaten Raiders, beat the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs when a fourth-down gamble paid off and edged the Lions last week when the longest field goal in NFL history bounced over the crossbar as time expired.
“I'll never discredit a win,” said Broncos tight end Noah Fant, “but I definitely think the Ravens are a good team for us to play against. They've played some really good opponents so far. They've shown what they can do and they've shown that they're a good team.”
Denver's first three opponents, the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, are a combined 0-9.
“We didn't pick our schedule,” Denver receiver Tim Patrick said. “So, we're just going out there and getting ‘dubs.’ We've got the Ravens this week and we've got to go out there and get another ‘dub.’”
The Ravens matchup, Fant said, “is a good measuring stick for us. I think they're a good team. But I also think we're a good team. I'm excited to play them.”
And show everybody — maybe even themselves — that their perfect start is no mirage.
Denver's defense, which is first in the league in points allowed, second against the run and third against the pass, will be stress-tested by Jackson, the unconventional dual-threat QB who's hard for anyone to stop.
“If we're going to win on Sunday,” suggested Broncos safety Justin Simmons, “the defense is going to have to be extraordinary.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio compared Jackson to “Barry Sanders playing quarterback,” and another day, he marveled, "This guy is so special and the thing that gets lost because he's so spectacular running the ball is this guy can throw it.
“He's a complete quarterback and he's tough,” Fangio said. "He's one of a kind, thank God.”
Fangio's not hedging his bets with Baltimore backup Tyler Huntley, either, even though Jackson (back) for just the second time in his four-year NFL career missed consecutive practices in the regular season.
“No. 1, I'm pretty damn sure he'll play,” Fangio said, adding, “they would run a similar offense with the other guy” anyway.
Von Miller, who won the AFC Defensive Player of the Month after a monster September, said he's telling his Broncos teammates, “This is a playoff game early in the season. ... It will be good to see what type of team we are versus a worthy opponent."
Other subplots Sunday when the Ravens can tie the NFL record with their 43rd consecutive game with at least 100 yards rushing, a mark set by the Steelers from 1974-77:
BROWN NOT DOWN
Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown dropped three long touchdown passes from Jackson last week, and the flubs totaled a whopping 97 air yards — not counting the yards he'd have gained had he hauled in the throws.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is confident the 2019 first-round pick will bounce back and show the Twitter trolls what he's really all about.
“People can write the Twitter account all they want, but Marquise is going to write his own story and his testimony is going to belong to him and him only," Harbaugh said. “So, how he responds is really what matters. I know that's what he's focusing on."
Jackson and Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater may be polar opposites on the field, but they have several similarities: They’re both from South Florida, both are Louisville alumni and both were the 32nd pick in the draft.
“I’ve been following him since he got to Louisville,” Bridgewater said. “I’m looking forward to just watching him compete against our defense. I’ll be rooting for him, but at the same time rooting for us to come away with a victory.”
The game pits the NFL's two most banged-up teams.
Baltimore lost star CB Marcus Peters and RBs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to knee injuries before the season.
“You can't allow” the rash of injuries “to define what you're trying to accomplish,” Harbaugh said. “And we've got other players here that are very confident and are excited about their opportunity.”
The Broncos have lost seven starters so far, including WR Jerry Jeudy and OLB Bradley Chubb to ankle injuries, WR KJ Hamler to a season-ending knee injury and ILB Josey Jewell to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle.
“We feel we have good players behind these guys," Fangio said. "We feel we'll weather this storm and come out good.”
If Tucker's range is 66 yards, what might it be at high altitude?
“We don’t know," Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton said, chuckling. "Hopefully, we’re not in those situations where we need to be setting records on field goals to win football games. So, we’ll just play it by ear, and if they call us, they put us out there, we’ll be ready to go.”
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